French army to begin Niger pullout 'this week'

The French soldiers are in Niger as part of a wider fight against jihadists across the Sahel region.

Oct 5, 2023 - 13:56
French army to begin Niger pullout 'this week'
[FILE] French soldiers of the 2e Regiment Etranger de Parachutistes (2eREP - 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment ) and Nigerien soldiers prepare for a mission on the French BAP air base, in Niamey, on 14 May 2023. French troops will begin withdrawing from Niger

PARIS - France said Thursday it would begin withdrawing its troops from Niger this week after a falling-out with the post-coup regime which said it would be done according to its "conditions".

The announcement by the French army follows weeks of tensions between Paris and Niger's new military rulers, who seized power on July 26.

"We will begin our disengagement operation this week, in good order, safely and in coordination with the Nigeriens," the military headquarters said.

France's ambassador to Niamey last week returned home from the West African country after the regime demanded his expulsion.

President Emmanuel Macron -- who had sought to make a special ally of Niger -- announced on September 24 the withdrawal of 1,400 French troops from the country "by the end of the year".

The French soldiers are in Niger as part of a wider fight against jihadists across the Sahel region.

Some 400 are deployed alongside local troops in north-western Niger, near its borders with Burkina Faso and Mali.

The "three borders" zone is known as a haven for the Islamic State group.

Soldiers withdrawing from the area would need cover to leave their exposed forward positions, the military headquarters said.

This possibly could include air support from the larger force at an airbase outside the capital Niamey.


Niger's military rulers responded in a statement on social media Thursday that they would be "attentive to ensure that this withdrawal takes place with respect for our interests and according to our conditions".

The 400 soldiers based at Ouallam in western Niger will be the first to leave, they said in the statement.

The airbase at Niamey, where most of the French troops are stationed, will then be dismantled by the end of the year, it added.

The French troops have been living with uncertainty since the new regime began demanding their departure, with irregular supplies of food and repeated anti-French demonstrations outside the Niamey base.

France had reinforced its presence in Niger after another coup-born military regime in Mali demanded its forces' departure.

Paris had added armoured vehicles and helicopters to the drones and fighter jets that were already deployed.

Its troops will now have to withdraw either via Benin to the south -- at odds with the Niamey regime -- or Chad to the east, the site of France's headquarters for the Sahel theatre.

For now, Niamey forbids French flights over its territory.

The coup against democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum was the third such putsch in the region in as many years, following similar actions in fellow former French colonies Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022, respectively.