US troops set to withdraw from Niger, State Department official says

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A U.S. and Niger flag are raised side by side at the base camp for air forces and other personnel supporting the construction of Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, April 16, 2018. Carley Petesch/APCNN — 

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met with Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine on Friday and they agreed – after Niger’s demands – that the US would militarily withdraw from the country, according to a State Department official.

In the coming days, there will be conversations over the timeline for the withdrawal with the Department of Defense, the official said.

The major drawdown will significantly impact the US troop presence on the continent of Africa, and the move comes amid serious US concerns about the country’s deepening relationships with Russia and Iran. The New York Times first reported on the expected withdrawal.

Campbell’s meeting with Zeine was their second this week, while he was in Washington, DC, for the World Bank’s spring meetings.

Just last month, Niger said it was revoking its military cooperation deal with the US, and these conversations followed what have been contentious interactions between officials from the two countries in recent months. Last summer the US troops stationed in Niger became inactive after a military coup that pushed out the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, and installed the military junta.

Throughout the conversation with Campbell this week, Zeine stressed a desire for partnership with the US to continue and made an effort to differentiate this situation from that of the French, the State Department official said. Still, it appears that both countries will be militarily forced out of the country within a year of one another. The US will maintain a diplomatic presence in the country, the official said.

Earlier this week in Niger, a senior airman filed a formal whistleblower complaint, warning that the US ambassador to Niger and the defense attache had “intentionally suppressed intelligence” in an attempt to “maintain a façade of a great country-to-country relationship.”

And US forces on the continent faced another blow last week when Chadian officials threatened to cancel the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which determines the rules and conditions under which US military personnel can operate in the country. While the letter did not directly order the US military to leave Chad, officials told CNN that it said all US forces would have to leave a French base in N’Djamena.

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