US warns African nation against ties with Russia and Iran

US warns African nation against ties with Russia and Iran

Niger’s coup leaders have canceled a defense pact with Washington, citing a breach of diplomatic protocol

A US delegation that traveled to Niger last week warned the new leadership of the West African nation about its potential relations with Russia and Iran, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The statement followed an announcement by Niger’s military on Saturday that it was revoking an agreement for US military personnel and civilian contractors to operate in the Sahel nation.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters that Washington is “working through diplomatic channels to seek clarification” on the Nigerien decision.

According to the Pentagon, there are currently around 1,000 US troops, including contractors, in Niger, mostly stationed at a $100 million desert drone base in Agadez. Following the ouster of pro-Western Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum in a coup last July, the US “repositioned” some of its servicemen from the capital, Niamey. Since then, American drone flights in the landlocked nation have been limited to intelligence-gathering purposes, with armed “counterterrorism” missions largely remaining on hold, the State Department has said.

Nigerien coup leaders have taken steps to cut ties with Niamey’s former military partners, citing their failure to combat Islamic terrorists in the Sahel, which had been the goal of their engagement. France completed the withdrawal of its troops from Niger in December, after Niamey’s military rulers ordered them to leave, accusing the former colonial power of internal interference and aggression.

Washington has insisted that disengagement from Niger is not an option, claiming it would forge “pragmatic” relations with the new military authorities, despite having suspended aid to Niamey alongside France and other Western allies.

On Saturday, Nigerien military government spokesman Colonel Amadou Abdramane accused the US delegation, which was in Niamey to negotiate the renewal of the security pact, of breaching diplomatic protocols. He claimed that American officials, including the chief of US Africa Command, General Michael Langley, had attempted to “deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism.”

Pentagon deputy press secretary Singh rejected the allegations on Monday, claiming that “the lengthy and direct discussions included an exchange of views on how to chart a new path of cooperation forward, emphasizing the importance of respecting Niger’s sovereignty and concerns from both sides.” 

Russia and Niger agreed in January to develop “bilateral military and military-technical cooperation” and work together to stabilize security in the Sahel region. Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine has previously stated that the coup leaders will only cooperate with partners who respect Niamey’s sovereignty.

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