The United States will begin plans to withdraw troops from the West African nation of Niger, officials said.

“The prime minister of Niger, appointed by the ruling military junta, Ali Lamine Zeine, and U.S. deputy secretary of state Kurt Campbell, agreed on Friday that the two nations would begin to plan the withdrawal of American troops, the U.S. State Department told The Associated Press in an email Saturday,” the Associated Press reports.

The decision follows the country’s ruling military junta revoking a security pact with Washington that allowed American troops to fight jihadist terrorism, The Guardian reports.

However, Niger’s relations with Washington have soured since Mohamed Bazoum, the country’s democratically elected president, was ousted in a coup.

“Niger’s new leaders have pursued closer ties with Russia, mirroring neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, where Russian military forces have established a presence,” The Guardian noted.

CBS News reports:

Niger has been home to a major U.S. airbase in the city of Agadez, some 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 last 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.

In October, Washington officially designated the military takeover as a coup, which triggered U.S. laws restricting the military support and aid that it can provide to Niger. In March, a U.S. delegation traveled to Niger to hold discussions at senior levels to explore whether it was possible to achieve an agreement respecting the concerns of both sides, a State Department official told the AP.

Some reports indicate that Niger’s Russian-backed military junta was essentially holding U.S. troops hostage.

However, it appears a deal was struck to release the troops in exchange for the $100 million airbase in the country.

Per The Guardian:

But the US finally admitted defeat after meetings in Washington this week between Kurt Campbell, the deputy secretary of state, and Niger’s prime minister, Ali Lamine Zeine.

The withdrawal, expected to occur over the coming months, will mean the closure of a US drone facility, known as Base 201, at Agadez in the Sahara that was opened in 2018 at a cost of $110m.

The base, one of the main US drone facilities in Africa, has been used in operations against jihadist groups in the Sahel region and was reportedly the launchpad for a series of deadly strikes against Islamic State fighters in Libya in 2019.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) described the situation for American troops in the country.

“We have Army soldiers right now in Niger who aren’t getting their troop rotations, who aren’t getting their medicine, who aren’t getting their supplies, who aren’t getting their mail,” Gaetz explained.

“Are you going to do anything for the soldiers that are in Niger right now who can’t get medicine?” he asked.

Gaetz claimed the situation in Niger was a “cover-up” due to the embarrassment to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

WATCH:

From the Associated Press:

A separate senior U.S. State Department official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about sensitive diplomatic talks, told the AP on Saturday that Niger’s junta made a decision that they don’t want any foreign forces in the country, including the U.S. and that the security partnership was ending for the time being. The junta told the U.S. that Russia’s presence was to train Nigeriens on how to operate the equipment. The official said that the U.S. had valid concerns about some of the choices the junta was making, specifically about the potential for Russian and American troops to be colocated.

The loss of access to air bases in Niger is a major setback for the U.S. and its allies in the region because of its strategic location for security operations in the Sahel, said Peter Pham, former U.S. special envoy for the Sahel region.

“In the short term, they will be hard to replace,” said Pham, adding that remaining European Union military presence would likely pull out of Niger following the news of a U.S. departure.

The rupture of relations between the two nations would impact the development and humanitarian aid funds destined for Niger, a country at the bottom of many indicators of well-being, Pham said.

Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who assists Niger’s military rulers with their communications, told the AP that American troops could potentially return after negotiations and that the ruling Niger junta, the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, wants to maintain a good working relationship with the U.S.

Al Jazeera noted:

In March, Niger decided to revoke its military accord with the United States that had allowed Pentagon personnel to operate on its soil from two bases, including a drone base it built at a cost of more than $100m.

The US still maintains about 1,000 soldiers in Niger, but their movements have been limited since the coup.

The head of the military government, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March to discuss “global strategic cooperation” against “current threats”, authorities said at the time, without elaborating.

Niger has joined neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso – also ruled by military leaders after coups – to create a joint force to battle long-running armed rebellions.

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