France has announced that it will withdraw its soldiers from Niger following a coup in the country in July. President Emmanuel Macron stated that 1,500 troops would be pulled out by the end of the year, emphasizing that France refused to be controlled by the coup leaders. This decision deals a significant blow to French influence and counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel region, where France was the former colonial power.
The withdrawal of French troops comes after pressure from the junta and popular demonstrations, and it is expected to heighten Western concerns about Russia’s expanding influence in Africa. The presence of the Russian mercenary force Wagner in neighboring Mali has already raised alarm bells. Despite not recognizing the junta as Niger’s legitimate authority, Macron stated that France would coordinate the troop withdrawal with the coup leaders to ensure an orderly process.
Macron confirmed that France’s ambassador would also be recalled and return to the country shortly. In recent years, French influence over its former colonies in West Africa has diminished, while anti-French sentiment has grown. France has been expelled from Mali and Burkina Faso following coups in those countries, reducing its role in the fight against Islamist insurgencies in the region.
Prior to the coup, Niger was a crucial security partner for France and the United States in combating Islamist insurgency in the wider Sahel region. France’s military base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, has become a focal point for anti-French protests since the coup. Demonstrators have regularly gathered outside the base, demanding the withdrawal of French troops. Pro-coup demonstrators in Niamey have even waved Russian flags, raising concerns that Niger may follow Mali’s lead and replace French troops with Wagner fighters.
The Russian mercenary group Wagner is also active in Central African Republic and Libya. While its future has been uncertain since the death of its chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a plane crash, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a return to constitutional order in Niger. Western nations suspect Wagner’s presence in Sudan, although it denies this.
It is worth noting that French nuclear power plants source a small amount of their uranium from Niger, with France’s state-owned Orano operating a mine in the country’s north. Macron affirmed that he still recognizes democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum, who is currently held captive by the coup leaders, as Niger’s legitimate leader and has informed him of France’s decision to withdraw troops.
Overall, France’s decision to withdraw its soldiers from Niger following the coup has significant implications for French influence and counter-insurgency efforts in the Sahel region. It also raises concerns about Russia’s expanding presence in Africa and the potential consequences for regional stability.
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