The Department of Defense said it is repositioning some troops and equipment within Niger “out of an abundance of caution” following a military coup in July that overthrew the West African country’s democratically elected government.
“We are hopeful that diplomatic talks will continue and that the situation in Niger will be resolved diplomatically,” Sabrina Singh, the Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, said Thursday at a press briefing. “This is simply a precautionary measure.”
The move of personnel and assets from Air Base 101 in Niamey, Niger’s capital, to Air Base 201 in Agadez, a facility in the central part of the country, is “ongoing,” said Singh, adding that there will be a small group that remains in Niamey.
Niger has played a critical role for the U.S. counterterrorism mission in the region, where extremist groups have been flocking.
The repositioning comes as Russian-backed Wagner forces have looked to possibly make Niger the next African country where they ascend to power. Niger’s junta previously asked for help from the Russian mercenary group in the face of a possible military intervention by the West African regional bloc, the Associated Press reported.
There are approximately 1,100 troops in Niger, Singh said, emphasizing that American “force posture” there has not changed.
Reuters first reported the repositioning of U.S. troops.
Abdel-Fatau Musah, an official with the Economic Community of West African States, recently told France 24 English that the West African bloc is “drawing the line in the sand” and demanding the restoration of constitutional order in Niger.
“American policy also appears to be in disarray in Niger — despite U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken describing the country as a ‘model of democracy’ just six months ago,” columnist Adekeye Adebajo wrote in Bloomberg on Friday. “The U.S. must now halt its traditional deference to Paris on Sahel matters to avoid being tarred with the same neocolonial brush.”
France also has troops on the ground in Niger, though they are reportedly in talks with Niger’s military about a possible withdrawal, according to French media reports.
J. Peter Pham, a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council and the former U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel Region of Africa, said on the social media platform X that what’s left unsaid with the repositioning is that American forces could be putting distance from those of France.
When asked about any connection between U.S. troop movement and any resistance that French forces have seen, Singh said there were no ties.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media