Did Russia and Iran cause Niger’s withdrawal from the American military pact? | Political news

by MMC
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Niger has suspended a military agreement with the United States that gave American troops a key base and launching pad in Africa’s Sahel region.

The move, announced Sunday, follows a row over the African country’s ties to Russia and Iran, which erupted when U.S. officials visited Niger last week to express their concerns.

What happened and what does it mean now?

What was the military pact between the United States and Niger?

The “status of forces” agreement, signed in 2012, allowed approximately 1,000 U.S. military and defense civilians to operate from Niger, which plays a central role in U.S. military operations in the Sahel.

The US military operates Air Base 101 in Niamey, the capital of Niger. In addition, it operates a major air base, Air Base 201, near Agadez, a town 920 km (572 miles) southwest of Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations in the Sahel.

Air Force Base 201 was constructed from 2016 to 2019 at a cost of more than $100 million. The base has been used since 2018 to launch drone operations against armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the Sahel.

“Niger is the center of US operations in West and North Africa, including at its Air Base 201,” Al Jazeera correspondent Shihab Rattansi said from Washington, DC.

Having a base in the Sahel is important for Washington’s operations against armed groups in the region, “but it’s also there to project great power against countries like Russia and China,” Rattansi said.

Why did Niger suspend the pact?

Senior US officials – led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and the head of US Africa Command, General Michael Langley – visited the West African country last week .

During their meetings, “US officials expressed concern about Niger’s potential relations with Russia and Iran,” Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense, said at a press conference on Monday.

In announcing the suspension of the agreement, Niger’s military spokesperson, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, referred to the pressure exerted by the United States on countries with which the country could partner.

“Niger regrets the intention of the American delegation to deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and the types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight terrorism,” Abdramane said.

He denounced the “condescending attitude” of American diplomats and asserted that Washington had not followed diplomatic protocol because Niger was not informed of the composition of the delegation, the date of its arrival or its order to day.

The military leader of Niger, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, refused to meet the delegation. Local media reported that Phee met the prime minister in Niamey.

“The crucial point (of Niger’s decision) lies in the choice of Niger’s military partner – in particular the choice of Russia. The United States clearly seems frustrated that Niger is moving ever closer in terms of military partnerships with the Russians,” Alexis Akwagyiram, director general of information platform Semafor Africa, told Al Jazeera. Akwagyiram added that the United States’ “condescending attitude” toward Niger may have contributed to Niger’s decision.

From Niger’s perspective, the American presence in the country has failed to crush the activities of armed groups.

“Right now, the Sahel region, despite these partnerships, remains the center of terrorism in the world,” said Kabir Adamu, a security and intelligence specialist focused on West Africa and the region. of the Sahel and based in Abuja, Nigeria.

What is the place of Russia and Iran?

Niger is under military regime since July, when an elite guard force led by Tchiani arrested democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum and declared Tchiani leader.

Eugene Prigozhin, the late founder of the Russian state-funded Wagner military group, welcomed the coup as a long-awaited liberation from Western colonizers.

After the cut, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for Bazoum’s immediate reinstatement, threatening the military government with force. Russia has warned ECOWAS against such action.

Niger then expelled French and European forces, following the example of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, both of which have also experienced military coups in recent years.

France has closed its embassy in Niger. The United States too suspended certain aid after the coup, but offered to restore ties under certain conditions in December. ECOWAS too lifted most sanctions in February.

After the coup, the U.S. military consolidated its forces in Niger, moving some of its soldiers from the capital’s Air Base 101 to Air Base 201.

Meanwhile, like Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger has turned to Russia for support.

A Russian delegation visited Niamey in December. In January, Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine visited Moscow to discuss military and economic ties.

And Niger is not only strengthening its relations with Russia. At the end of January, Zeine also visited Iran, where he met with President Ebrahim Raisi. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the U.S. delegation that visited Niamey last week accused Niger’s government of also working on a deal to supply uranium to Iran. Niger is the seventh largest producer of uranium in the world.

Could the United States negotiate the maintenance of its troops in Niger?

Asked if it was possible for US forces to remain in Niger, Singh said on Monday: “We remain in contact with the CNSP (the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland – the ruling military body in Niger). Niger). We continue to have these conversations at the diplomatic level, so I do not have a timetable for a withdrawal of forces.”

Akwagyiram said the suspension could leave Niger vulnerable, as would Mali and Burkina Faso, adding that he did not think West African countries could match the U.S. military force in numbers or capability. “When you push back these Western troops, you might see an attempt to make up the numbers by making a security pact between them and turning to Russia, but I don’t think that will make up the deficit.”

He predicted that over time, the security situation in Niger would “deteriorate.”.

How does this affect the United States?

The Niger base is one of the largest drone facilities the United States has in Africa. Singh confirmed during Monday’s press briefing that the United States has not used its troops and drones on the base for “counterterrorism” operations since the July coup.

If the United States is to withdraw its forces entirely, it could lose access to facilities – built entirely by the United States – thereby further reducing the West’s military footprint in a part of the world where Western influence Russia continues to grow.

In February, France withdrew its troops from Burkina Fasowhich has been under military rule since a 2022 coup.

In Mali, Russian soldiers train military government officers. Wagner, the Russian paramilitary group, is present there. And relations between Mali and the United States are strained: in July, the United States sanctioned Malian army officials for their ties to Wagner fighters.

The latest “unfortunate development” in Niger could prove particularly embarrassing for US President Joe Biden in this election year, Adamu said.

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