Niger: the departure of French soldiers should be done within three months

The situation was no longer tenable. At the end of a two-month standoff with the Nigerien military regime, President Emmanuel Macron finally announced Sunday the return to Paris of the ambassador to Niamey and the withdrawal of French troops from Niger "by the end of the year". Update on the repatriation of the 1,500 French soldiers present in Niger.

[Illustrative image] French soldiers control a Reaper drone at the French BAP air base in Niamey on May 14, 2023. AFP - ALAIN JOCARD

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Careful planning will be the key to a departure from Niger in just three months. On the side of the French military, it is recalled that for several weeks now, contacts have been made with their Nigerien counterparts to prepare this withdrawal. The 200 soldiers stationed in Ouallam, in Nigerien Liptako, will initially join the planned air base of Niamey, epicenter of the French presence. Thanks to airlifts, it will then be relatively easy to repatriate troops toFrance.

On the other hand, to disengage heavy elements such as combat vehicles, mobile terminals, helicopters and stocks, the logisticians of the French army will have to organize large land convoys to reach the ports of Cotonou or Abidjan. They will then reach the France by boat because there are no plans to redeploy equipment to other French military bases in Africa.

The men of engineering are now experienced in these great moves. By 2022, the Barkhane force – 4,500 men – had managed to leave Mali in six months. A real logistical challenge that will have to be repeated even if this time, the military footprint is smaller and the distances shorter.

Chad, the last anchorage of the French military in the Sahel

In the summer of 2022, this departure of the Barkhane force from Mali had already almost ended the French military presence in the Sahel because the 4,500 soldiers who were engaged there had all joined the France. In Niger, the number of French soldiers never exceeded 1,500 men, mainly stationed at Air Base 101 in Niamey. A detachment largely composed of airmen and technicians to serve three Mirages 2000 and 6 reaper drones.

Nevertheless, France remained the only country to propose a combat partnership to the Nigerien authorities: the French military was at the service of the Nigerien armed forces, which planned operations alone. Thus, on the ground, 200 French soldiers took turns every four months in Ouallam in Liptako to secure the border with Mali with Nigerien forces.

Unlike the French, the Italian, German, and American soldiers present in Niger have always only done training. The US military also flies its drones from the Agadez base, but on their own account.

With this departure from Niamey recorded, Chad remains the last anchorage of the French military in the Sahel. With 1,000 men, an air base and a headquarters in N'Djamena and a field of observation that is now limited to the eastern Sahelian zone.

" READ ALSO The departure of the ambassador of France in Niger marks the end of a showdown with the junta

For Nigerien civil society, a withdrawal of the military that could have been done long ago

For the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland (CNSP), Emmanuel Macron's double announcement is a "new step towards the sovereignty of Niger", "a historic moment that testifies to the determination and will of the Nigerien people". Reactions also in civil society, the secretary general of the association Alternative spaces citizens, Moussa Tchangari, considers in particular that the decision to withdraw the French soldiers could have been taken a long time ago. "This military presence has not produced results and it is rigorously denounced through demonstrations, writings, etc. So we had to stop that. Especially since the result today is that armed groups have grown more or less in power throughout the region. The result is also that this security crisis has paved the way for the return to power of armies in all countries of the region. So, from that, we can say that it's like a complete failure. Finally, it is the democratization efforts that have been initiated that are coming to an end. And now, a new era is opening up, it is that of military regimes that will be facing armed groups that also seek to take power and install another order. That's ultimately the balance sheet of this military presence."

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