US military looks for West Africa 'Plan B' after Niger ousting

11:37 26.06.2024 •

The top U.S. general is making a rare trip to Africa to discuss ways to preserve some of the U.S. presence in West Africa after Niger decided to kick out the U.S. military in favour of partnering with Russia in a major setback for Washington.

Air Force General C.Q. Brown (photo), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters before landing in Botswana on Monday for a gathering of African chiefs of defense that he was going to speak with several partners in the region.

"I do see some opportunities. And there's countries that we're already working with in West Africa," Brown told reporters traveling with him.

Building on those relationships may "provide opportunities for us to posture some of the capability we had in Niger in some other locations," he added.

Brown declined to say which countries were under consideration. But a U.S. official told Reuters that President Joe Biden's administration has had initial conversations with countries including Benin, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Still, the U.S. military is not expected to be able to replicate its muscular counter-terrorism footprint in Niger anytime soon. In particular, its ejection means losing Air Base 201, which the U.S. built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of more than $100 million.

Until Niger's military coup last year, the base had been key to the U.S. and Niger's shared fight against insurgents who have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more.

The changing political landscape in West and Central Africa presents a dilemma for the United States. The region has seen eight coups over four years, including in Niger and its neighbors Burkina Faso and Mali.

"The U.S. had solid partners in the region," said Catherine Nzuki at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"And now that the U.S. has been pushed out of Niger, the political question that I think the Department of State is asking, the Department of Defense is asking, is: Are we losing allies in the region? Are things changing too rapidly for us to keep up?"

So far, the U.S. withdrawal from Niger is being completed on schedule ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline, U.S. officials say, with only about 600 troops remaining at Air Base 101, which is next to Diori Hamani International Airport in the capital Niamey.

As the U.S. exits, Russia has deployed a number of military forces to the same base, where they are carrying out training activities.


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