The approximately 1,500 French soldiers are the first to leave Niger after receiving the order from the Nigerien army which took power in July.
French soldiers have begun to withdraw from their bases in Niger, with the first convoy of troops being escorted out of the country by the Nigerien army as it headed towards “Chad”, authorities in the capital Niamey said.
Pickup trucks and armored vehicles loaded with French soldiers drove through the dusty suburbs of Niamey on Tuesday, marking a departure demanded by Niger’s military rulers who took power in July.
In a statement read on state television, the Nigerien army called on citizens to cooperate with the troop movements, which it said would involve some of the 1,500 French soldiers leaving Niger by road to Chad, a journey of several hundred kilometers through sometimes unsafe territory.
“The troops based in Ouallam left their base today. These are the departure operations of the first land convoy towards Chad, escorted by our defense and security forces,” the military indicated.
In addition to the departure by land, “three special flights” were recorded at Niamey airport, two for the departure of “97 special forces elements” and one “dedicated to logistics”.
The withdrawal of French forces was quickly demanded by the new generals in power in Niger after they took power on July 26, with French President Emmanuel Macron subsequently confirming their departure at the end of September.
About 1,000 French troops were stationed in Niamey, and another 400 were deployed at two forward bases in the northwest, near Mali and Burkina Faso, a hotbed of rebel activity.
Niger’s military leaders, who assured the withdrawal would take place in “total security”, said the remaining French forces would continue to leave according to “a timetable agreed by both parties”.
The United States also officially declared on Tuesday that Niger’s democratically elected president had been removed from office following a military coup, leading to the formal suspension of aid to Niger. Although there are no plans to change the U.S. troop presence in the country, senior administration officials said.
The decision, which limits the aid Washington can provide to Niger, was taken after it became clear that the military government was unwilling to respect constitutional directives aimed at restoring civilian, democratic rule, a senior official said. .
“We are taking this action because over the past two months we have exhausted all available avenues to preserve constitutional order in Niger,” a senior U.S. official said, speaking to reporters.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Matthew Miller said some $200 million in foreign aid temporarily suspended to Niger in August had been officially suspended.
“Any resumption of U.S. aid will require action…to usher in democratic governance in a timely and credible manner,” Miller said in a statement.
US suspends most aid to Niger pic.twitter.com/ObKpN2ZtFi
– Élian Peltier (@ElianPeltier) October 10, 2023
Despite the coup designation and aid suspension, the United States has no current plans to change its troop presence in the country, another official said.
Over the past decade, U.S. troops have trained Nigerien forces in counterterrorism and operated two military bases, including one that conducts drone missions against rebel fighters affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.
There are now about 1,000 U.S. Department of Defense personnel in Niger, according to officials.