US to complete withdrawal from Niger’s Air Base 101 on Sunday

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. military is set to complete the withdrawal on Sunday of its personnel from Niger’s Air Base 101 in the nation’s capital and then will shift its focus to exiting a major drone base in the coming weeks, a U.S. general said on Friday.

Niger’s ruling junta in April ordered the U.S. to withdraw its nearly 1,000 military personnel from the country, in an embarrassing setback for Washington that followed a coup last year in the West African nation.

Before the coup, Niger had been a key partner in the U.S. fight against insurgents in the Sahel region of Africa, who have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more. Washington is searching for a Plan B in West Africa but the process is slow and officials caution that U.S. intelligence is dimming on the fast-growing extremist groups in the region.

Air Force Major General Kenneth Ekman, who is in Niger to coordinate the departure, said the U.S. exit from Air Base 101 will be finalized with a ceremony on Sunday evening. The base is located next to Diori Hamani International Airport in the capital Niamey.

“We will do a joint ceremony on that occasion that marks the departure of the last U.S. C-17 (aircraft). The government of Niger will assume control of former U.S. areas and facilities,” Ekman said, speaking by video conference.

As the U.S. exits, Russia has deployed military forces to the same base, where they are carrying out training activities. 

U.S. officials say there has been no contact between U.S. and Russian personnel there and Ekman stressed he has received assurances from Niger the two nations’ forces will be kept separate.

“When I last talked to a Nigerian interlocutor, he quantified the presence of Russian forces as under 100. And he also talked about when the Russians are done training them, they have told the Russians that they have to go home,” Ekman said.  


Since 2020, soldiers in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have carried out coups, blaming civilian leaders for allowing Islamist militants to gain ground. Once in power, juntas have torn up defense agreements with U.S., French and U.N. forces.

Niger’s military rulers have given the U.S. until Sept. 15 to remove its troops, which also means leaving a $100-million drone base near Agadez in central Niger that had provided crucial intelligence about groups allied to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Ekman said the withdrawal from that base, known as Air Base 201, could be completed early and will likely happen next month.

“Now our weight of effort flows to Air Base 201,” he said.

Asked about morale among U.S. forces, Ekman acknowledged that it was “mixed” during his visits to the two bases in Niger hosting U.S. personnel.

“When you have a session with airmen and soldiers, you get everything from laughter to tears,” Ekman said, noting the uncertainty facing U.S. troops over the past year.

U.S. military officials are holding out hope that even after the U.S. exits there might be a way to maintain some kind of future security relationship with Niger, given the years-long investment in military ties. “What’s happened here, in the long view of U.S. and Nigerian partnership, is really unfortunate,” he said. “We enjoy over 15 years of close partnership pursuing mutual security objectives. And so as we’ve left, our goal has been to do it responsibly, quickly and amicably.”

The U.S. military is withdrawing valuable equipment, including power generators, but leaving the bases in good condition, he said.

“If we went out and left it a wreck, or if we went out spitefully, or if we destroyed things as we went, we’d be foreclosing options that both nations need for the future. And our security objectives are still entwined,” he said.  

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Rod Nickel)

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