First of some 1,500 French forces leave Niger after being ordered to leave by military who seized power in July.
French soldiers have started to withdraw from their bases in Niger, with the first convoy of troops escorted out of the country by Niger’s military as it travelled in the “direction of Chad”, authorities in the capital Niamey said.
Pick-up trucks and armoured personnel carriers laden with French soldiers drove through the dusty outskirts of Niamey on Tuesday, marking a departure demanded by Niger’s military rulers who seized power in July.
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In a statement read on state television, Niger’s military called on citizens to cooperate with the troop movements, which it said would involve some of the 1,500 French soldiers leaving Niger by road to Chad, a journey of hundreds of kilometres through sometimes insecure territory.
“The troops based in Ouallam have left their base today. These are the operations for the departure of the first ground convoy in the direction of Chad, escorted by our defence and security forces,” the military said.
In addition to the departure by land, “three special flights” have been registered at the airport in Niamey, two for the departure of “97 special forces elements” and one “dedicated to logistics”.
The withdrawal of French forces was swiftly demanded by Niger’s new ruling generals after they took power on July 26, with French President Emmanuel Macron then confirming their departure at the end of September.
Approximately 1,000 French troops were stationed in Niamey, with another 400 deployed at two forward bases in the northwest, near Mali and Burkina Faso, a hotbed of rebel activity.
Niger’s military rulers, which assured the withdrawal will take place in “complete safety”, said remaining French forces would continue to leave on “a timetable agreed to by both parties”.
The United States on Tuesday also formally declared that Niger’s democratically-elected president was removed in a military coup, which results in officially suspending assistance to Niger. Though there are no plans to change the US troop presence in the country, senior administration officials said.
The decision, which limits what assistance Washington can provide to Niger, was made after it became clear the military government did not want to abide by constitutional guidelines to restore civilian and democratic rule, a senior official said.
“We’re taking this action because, over the last two months, we’ve exhausted all available avenues to preserve constitutional order in Niger,” a senior US official said, speaking to reporters.
US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that some $200m in foreign assistance temporarily paused to Niger in August had now been officially suspended.
“Any resumption of US assistance will require action… to usher in democratic governance in a quick and credible timeframe,” Miller said in a statement.
Despite the coup designation and aid suspension, the US at this time has no plans to change its troop presence in the country, another official said.
Over the past decade, US troops have trained Nigerien forces in counterterrorism and operated two military bases, including one that conducts drone missions against rebel fighters affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.
There are now about 1,000 US defence department personnel in Niger, according to the officials.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES