NewsUS and Russian forces coexist in Niger amid shifting alliances

US and Russian forces coexist in Niger amid shifting alliances

Lloyd Austin, US defense minister
Lloyd Austin, US defense minister
Images source: © Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla

9:52 AM EDT, May 3, 2024

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently clarified that American forces are not experiencing significant issues with Russian military presence at the air base in Niamey, Niger's capital. He reassured that American troops continue to operate from this location.

During a press briefing in Honolulu, Austin expressed that the Russians are housed in a separate complex without access to US forces or their equipment. He emphasized that ensuring the safety and security of the troops is his top priority and that he currently does not perceive a significant threat to their safety.

Following a report by Reuters, based on information from a senior American Defense Department official, it came to light that Russian military personnel have made their way into the air base in Niger. This development occurred after the Nigerian military junta mandated the withdrawal of nearly 1,000 US soldiers from the West African nation.

Niger's shifting alliances

Prior to last year's coup, Niger played a critical role as an ally to Washington in combating insurgents, a conflict that resulted in thousands of deaths and displaced millions. An undisclosed source mentioned that Russian forces are stationed separately from the American troops, utilizing a distinct hangar at Air Base 101, adjacent to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey.

Reuters highlighted that the presence of Russian soldiers near US forces at a time of escalating military and diplomatic tensions, especially concerning Ukraine, poses questions about the future of American facilities in Niger after the withdrawal.

The source added that the US and its allies have been compelled to pull out from several African nations following coups that brought to power regimes keen on distancing themselves from Western influence. This trend saw not only the anticipated exit from Niger but also the departure of US forces from Chad and the expulsion of French troops from Mali and Burkina Faso.

Increasing Russian influence

Meanwhile, Russia has been actively working to bolster its ties with African countries, presenting itself as a nation free from the colonial past that plagues many Western countries on the continent.

In this effort, Mali has emerged as one of Russia's most significant allies in Africa over recent years, with the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization, being dispatched to combat jihadist insurgents.

According to an American official who spoke with Reuters, the Nigerien government has notified President Joe Biden's administration about the presence of around 60 Russian soldiers in Niger. However, this information has yet to be confirmed.

Following the coup, the US military relocated part of its operations in Niger from Air Base 101 to Air Base 201 in Agadez. The status of US military equipment remaining at Air Base 101 is currently unclear.

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