Protests against US military presence in Niger continue

Hundreds of people demonstrated on Sunday in Northern Niger calling for the immediate departure of the 1,000 American troops based there.

The demos happen even as the the U.S. say it will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger.

A U.S. official said there was no timeline for withdrawal besides talks set to start in the coming days about next steps. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the private diplomatic discussions. An American delegation to coordinate the details of the withdrawal process will be dispatched soon.

Niger plays a central role in the U.S. military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, an area on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Washington is concerned about the spread of jihadi violence, where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and the Islamic State groups. Niger is home to a major U.S. air base, in the city of Agadez, about 920 kilometers (550 miles) from the capital, Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The U.S. has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.

But relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.

There was an attempt on the behalf of the U.S. to revise the military agreement with Niger that would allow them to stay, U.S. officials told the AP. But the agreement between Zeine and Campbell shows that the effort has failed.

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