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Niger Expels US Military, Welcomes Russian Military Trainers

Russia’s defence ministry officials arrived in Niger following an agreement between Niger’s junta and Vladimir Putin aimed at enhancing cooperation.

Niger state television RTN reported that military instructors and personnel from Russia’s defence ministry arrived in Niger on Wednesday, signaling a deepening of ties between the West African nation and Moscow, similar to its junta-led neighbors.

During a Thursday broadcast, RTN aired footage depicting a military cargo plane unloading equipment while individuals in military attire looked on. The report indicated that this deployment followed a recent agreement between Niger’s junta and Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed at enhancing cooperation.

“We are here to train the Nigerien army and to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger,” stated a man in camouflage uniform, identified by RTN as one of the instructors. During the broadcast, the man wore a neck gaiter covering most of his face as he spoke on camera.

RTN also reported that Russia had agreed to install an anti-aircraft system in Niger, with the broadcaster saying, “Our airspace will now be better protected.”

The deployment of Russian instructors comes after Niger’s move in mid-March to annul its military agreement with the United States. This agreement permitted Pentagon personnel to conduct operations from two bases, one of which was a drone base constructed at a cost exceeding $100 million.

Subsequently, the Pentagon revealed that U.S. officials had conveyed concerns to Niger regarding its potential alignment with Russia before the junta terminated the agreement governing approximately 1,000 U.S. military personnel in the country.

Since 2020, a series of military coups in Niger, as well as neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, have unfolded, reshaping international efforts to combat Islamist insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State.

These juntas have terminated military agreements with longstanding allies like France, cultivated closer relations with Russia, and established their own cooperation pact known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

Violence in the region has intensified since the coups, reaching a peak in 2023, with conflict-related fatalities in the central Sahel increasing by 38% compared to the previous year, according to the U.S.-based crisis-monitoring group ACLED. Reports indicated over 8,000 people killed in Burkina Faso alone last year.

The escalating instability has exacerbated a protracted humanitarian crisis in the region bordering the Sahara desert, which is already one of the world’s poorest. As of March, the International Organization of Migration reported over 3 million people displaced in the area.

Melissa Enoch

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