The US military has been given a 15 September 2024, deadline to depart Niger after negotiations between US and Nigerien officials in Niamey firmed up timelines for the removal of US forces from the country, which will see the closure of two key airbases.

In a 19 May announcement from the US Department of Defense (DoD) it was stated that DoD officials had met with counterparts at Niger’s Ministry of National Defense between 15-19 May, as part of a Joint Disengagement Commission to coordinate the withdrawal of US forces from Niger.

“The US Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense of Niger have reached a disengagement agreement to effect the withdrawal of US forces, which has already begun. It is therefore agreed that this disengagement will end no later than September 15, 2024,” the DoD stated in its release.

The delegations also established procedures to facilitate the entry and exit of US personnel, including overflight and landing clearances for military flights, the DoD said.

The loss of the ability to base US forces in Niger is keenly felt across the DoD, with a senior defence official on 19 May stating that, from a strategic perspective, Niger had been “an anchor for our counterterrorism efforts [in the region] for over a decade, decade and a half”.

It is understood that around 100 US personnel have so far been removed from existing bases in Niger, with around 1,000 still to leave. Most personnel will be airlifted out of the country, along with the high-value equipment at Air Base 101 in the capital Niamey and Air Base 201 near Agadez.

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Niger Air Base 201 is located at Agadez. Credit: The World Factbook 2021. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2021.

Air Base 201 was especially key as it was thought to host secretive MQ-9 Reaper drones, which were used to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations throughout the region.

The absence of the US will pave the way for Russia and China to increase their military presence and influence in the country, with Russian forces widely operating in a number of countries in the region, such as Mali and Burkina Faso.

When asked about the presence of Russian forces in Niger and whether they were already co-habiting in areas of Base 101, the senior defence official was equivocal on the exact situation on the ground.

“The truthful answer is, I don’t know. We hear reports of Russians, maybe in the capital in Niamey. Can’t tell you anything specifically about their location around AB 101, don’t have anything on [AB 201] Agadez either,” the official said.

It was unclear whether the expectation was that Russian forces would move into the vacated US bases. However, given that the physical infrastructure will be retained at the sites, such locations will likely be of high priority for non-US foreign forces looking to secure or expand a footprint in the country.

Timeline of the US losing its Niger presence

The US will lose a key defence presence in the heart of Africa after being forced to withdraw its forces from Niger following the failure of bilateral negotiations on the continuation of security cooperation in the wake of a military coup in July 2023.

The coup is the fifth since the country gained independence from France, with the others occurring in 1974, 1996, 1999, 2010, and a failed military takeover in 2019.

Announcing at the end of April 2024 the intention to withdraw all military personnel from Niger, the US State Department said that “amid discussion since July 2023”, US negotiators had been “unable to reach an understanding” with the Niger’s National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland (CNSP) to continue security cooperation.

The consequence of the inability of the US to determine a way to work with the new ruling junta of Niger, which saw presidential guard commander General Abdourahamane Tchiani conduct the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum, will deny Washington a crucial security node in Africa.

A Pentagon spokesperson said in a press briefing on 25 April that the “preference” would be “to have the ability to operate out of places like Niger”, adding that the US had “other means and methods” at its disposal.