French troops withdraw completely from Niger, ending military cooperation

The last contingent of French troops engaged in a decade-long fight against an Islamist insurgency in Niger formally completed their withdrawal from the country on Friday.

Soldiers of the last French troops in Niger board in a military plane as they prepare to leave Niamey, Niger December 22, 2023. REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou

This move holds significance not only for France’s role in West Africa but also hints at an adjustment in the country’s strategic vision that is yet to be fully revealed.

Following the July 26 coup by the presidential guards of President Mohamed Bazoum, the junta continue to hold the President hostage alongside his family as he refused to officially concede power to the coup leader. Niger’s military junta demanded France remove its troops from Niger, following confrontations in previous years, including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad, Reuters reported.

Initially met with opposition, French President Emmanuel Macron announced in September that 1,500 troops would withdraw from Niger by the end of the year. This decision followed a complete withdrawal from Mali in August 2022 and the cessation of military cooperation with Burkina Faso in February, despite escalating attacks from Islamist insurgents.

Before the coup, Niger was a crucial security partner for both France and the United States, serving as an outpost to combat groups linked with Al Qaeda and Islamic State in the region. The bombings by these extremist groups have resulted in casualties and mass displacement across the Sahel and beyond.

According to Reuters, French and Niger officials signed a document in Niamey on Friday formalising the end of France’s military relationship with Niger. Shortly afterward, the last French troops, dressed in military uniforms, boarded a plane that left Niger’s capital of Niamey.

France was the former coloniser of Niger, and relations between them quickly deteriorated after the July coup, marked by demonstrations around the French base in Niger and an attack on the French embassy.

Following the pattern of juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger’s self-proclaimed leaders ordered police to expel France’s ambassador. Diplomatic sources revealed that the French Embassy in Niamey decided to close down due to restrictions imposed by the junta, making it difficult to carry out its duties.

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