Russian troops staying at base housing US forces in Niger

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Russian military personnel have been staying at an air base in Niger that also hosts U.S. troops and equipment, a U.S. official confirmed to The Hill Thursday.

The news comes as roughly 1,000 American service members are expected to withdraw from Niger following deteriorating relations with the African nation after a military coup there last year. The military junta that now controls Niger’s government has demanded U.S. forces leave and turned to Russia for weapons and security.

The Russian troops “for a couple of weeks” have been at Airbase 101, next to Diori Hamani International Airport in the capital city of Niamey, the official told The Hill.

“We have been monitoring the situation,” they said, adding that the Russian forces do not have access to U.S. service members, spaces, or equipment, and that they are using a separate hangar at Airbase 101, which is owned by the Nigeriens.

They also noted that the U.S. had consolidated most of its forces from Airbase 101 to Airbase 201 in Agadez soon after the coup. They did not say how many American troops remain at 101 or what equipment is still there.

Russia’s military presence at 101 places U.S. and Kremlin troops in close quarters at a time of major acrimony between the two countries over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Reuters first reported on the presence of Russian troops at the base.

Washington last month announced that American forces would withdraw from Niger after the military junta revoked a military cooperation agreement with the United States in March. That accord gave U.S. troops a major foothold to fight against extremist groups in the region, including and Islamic State offshoot, Boko Haram and others.

A forced withdrawal from Niger is a major setback for U.S. military as looks to quell militant groups across the Sahel, a volatile region in northern Africa that stretches from Senegal and Mauritania in west to Sudan and Eritrea on the Red Sea. 

About 100 U.S. troops have also left Chad in recent days, according to Reuters.

Niger, following the path as its neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, has sought inroads with Russia, including its private military company Wagner Group. The organization has ties to Moscow and has a history of exploiting the resources of African nations. 

A delegation last week was sent to Niger to arrange an orderly withdrawal and included U.S. Ambassador to Niger Kathleen FitzGibbon and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Ekman, the director of strategy, engagement and programs at U.S. Africa Command.

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