US troops have conducted a “strategic” exercise in Niger, the commander of the US regional force commander said Thursday.
The engagement across West Africa into Niger enabled the US North and West Africa Response Force (NARF) “to exercise its readiness by testing its operational reach throughout the region,” said Major General Andrew Rohling.
The “strategic engagement” in Niger took place, from last Saturday to Monday.
The NARF’s mission is “crisis and contingency response in North and West Africa, including to protect US interests,” the US army said in a statement.
Rohling is commander of the US army’s Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF).
More than 420 civilians have been killed in jihadist attacks in western Niger this year and tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
Atrocities have also been committed in southeast Niger by Nigerian jihadists from Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)
While in Niger, US troops met informally with French military counterparts in Niamey.
“The French are important, longstanding allies who share our commitment to address complex security concerns in Africa,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Ward, a battalion commander who attended the French-hosted meeting.
It was estimated in 2017 that 800 US troops, mainly special forces, mainly active against jihadist groups, were operating in Niger.
France has announced a gradual reduction of its military presence in the Sahel region.
President Emmanuel Macron announced in June that he would start removing much of the 5,100-member Barkhane force in the Sahel after eight years of helping local forces stave off the threat from Islamist rebels linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
After the drawdown, France will still have “2,500 to 3,000” soldiers in the region, he said then.