France Begins Troop Pullout from Niger after Coup

Written by Benjamin Adewumi

France has started withdrawing its troops from Niger, following an order by the country’s military junta that seized power in a coup in July.

The French army said on Tuesday that the first group of soldiers had left the West African nation, where they had been deployed as part of a regional anti-jihadist operation.

The withdrawal is expected to be completed by the end of the year, ending another chapter of France’s military involvement in Africa.

“The first troops have left,” the spokesman of the French chief of staff told AFP, confirming an announcement by Niger’s military leadership on Monday.

A French defence source said that the first group of soldiers that were considered a priority for evacuation for health or humanitarian reasons flew out of Niger on Monday.

Niger had said that the 1,400-strong French contingent would begin leaving on Tuesday, and that they would be escorted out of the country by the Nigerien army.

It was not clear where the French troops would go, as they face logistical challenges in finding safe routes out of a region plagued by myriad jihadist groups.

About 1,000 French troops were based in the capital Niamey, while another 400 were stationed at two forward bases in the north-west, near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, a hotbed of insurgent activity.

The troop pullout is the fourth time in under two years that France has been forced to leave a former African colony, after being accused of having a colonialist attitude and failing to effectively combat jihadists.

Mali and Burkina Faso, which have also undergone coups in the past two years, have turned their backs on France and sought closer ties with Russia.

Niger’s military rulers, who toppled French-backed President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, also demanded the departure of France’s ambassador to Niger, who returned to Paris on September 27.

The junta said that the withdrawal of French troops and diplomats was a “step towards the sovereignty of Niger”.

Bazoum, who remains under house arrest in Niamey, had requested France to keep its troops and ambassador in the country, arguing that they were vital for security and stability.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially tried to resist the pressure to bring them home, but eventually gave in after months of anti-French protests in Niger.

France still insists, however, that Bazoum’s ousted government remains the sole legitimate authority.

The United States, which also has about 1,100 military personnel in Niger, said last month that it would “evaluate” its next steps after Macron’s announcement.


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