U.S. says troops are leaving Niger bases this weekend and in August after coup

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The U.S. will remove all its forces and equipment from a small base in Niger this weekend and fewer than 500 remaining troops will leave a critical drone base in the West African country in August, ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline set in an agreement with the new ruling junta, the American commander there said Friday.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Kenneth Ekman said in an interview that a number of small teams of 10-20 U.S. troops, including special operations forces, have moved to other countries in West Africa. But the bulk of the forces will go, at least initially, to Europe.

Niger’s ouster of American troops following a coup last year has broad ramifications for the U.S. because it is forcing troops to abandon the critical drone base that was used for counterterrorism missions in the Sahel.

Ekman and other U.S. military leaders have said other West African nations want to work with the U.S. and may be open to an expanded American presence. He did not detail the locations, but other U.S. officials have pointed to the Ivory Coast and Ghana as examples.

Ekman, who serves as the director for strategy at U.S. Africa Command, is leading the U.S. military withdrawal from the small base at the airport in Niger’s capital of Niamey and from the larger counterterrorism base in the city of Agadez. He said there will be a ceremony Sunday marking the completed pullout from the airport base, then those final 100 troops and the last C-17 transport aircraft will depart.

Speaking to reporters from The Associated Press and Reuters from the U.S. embassy in Niamey, Ekman said that while portable buildings and vehicles that are no longer useful will be left behind, a lot of larger equipment will be pulled out. For example, he said 18 4,000-pound (1,800-kilogram) generators worth more than $1 million each will be taken out of Agadez.

Unlike the withdrawal from Afghanistan, he said the U.S. is not destroying equipment or facilities as it leaves.

“Our goal in the execution is, leave things in as good a state as possible,” he said. “If we went out and left it a wreck or we went out spitefully, or if we destroyed things as we went, we’d be foreclosing options” for future security relations.

Niger’s ruling junta ordered U.S. forces out of the country in the wake of last July’s ouster of the country’s democratically elected president by mutinous soldiers. French forces had also been asked to leave as the junta turned to the Russian mercenary group Wagner for security assistance.

Washington officially designated the military takeover as a coup in October, triggering U.S. laws restricting the military support and aid.

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