Niger Says US to Submit Plan to ‘Disengage’ Troops

Niger on Wednesday said the United States will shortly submit a proposal to “disengage” its soldiers from the country, after the regime said it was withdrawing from a 2012 cooperation deal with Washington.

Interior Minister General Mohamed Toumba met US Ambassador Kathleen FitzGibbon on Wednesday to discuss the issue, his ministry said in Niamey, the West African nation’s capital.

FitzGibbon told the minister that Washington had “taken note of the decision” by Niger to withdraw from the military agreement and would be “coming back with a plan” on the “methods for disengaging” the more than 1,000 US troops based in Niger, according to the ministry’s statement.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller declined to comment on the Nigerien interior ministry’s assertion and said the status of US troops remained “broadly” the same for now.

The United States has been “in touch with the transition authorities to seek clarification” on statements about the troops, Miller told reporters.

“We have been having these conversations, but I don’t think it would be productive for me to read them out,” he added.

Niamey’s announcement that it is breaking with the United States came on Saturday after a three-day visit by a senior US delegation to renew contact with the junta.

In mid-March, Niger said that the 2012 cooperation agreement had been “unilaterally imposed” by Washington.

US troops have been stationed at a $100 billion desert drone base to combat the jihadist violence plaguing much of West Africa.

After General Abdourahamane Tiani seized power in a July coup, the regime ousted troops from former colonial power France and sought deeper military and political partnerships with Russia.

Neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso made similar moves and joined a joint defense pact with Niger, exiting the wider West African bloc ECOWAS.

Tiani on Tuesday spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the “strengthening” of their security agreements after Moscow announced in mid-January its intention to “intensify” military cooperation.

A Russian delegation also visited Niger last December.

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