French army says to begin Niger withdrawal ‘this week’

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French troops will begin withdrawing from Niger “this week,” Paris said Thursday, after a falling-out with the military junta in power since a July coup.

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

The announcement comes a week after France’s ambassador to Niamey returned home under pressure from the regime.

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President Emmanuel Macron had announced on September 24 the withdrawal of 1,400 French troops “by the end of the year.”

Paris’ soldiers were in Niger as part of a wider fight against extremists across the Sahel region.

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

The “three borders” zone is known as a haven for ISIS.

Soldiers withdrawing from the area would need cover to leave their exposed forward positions, the military headquarters said, possibly including air support from the larger force at an airbase outside the capital Niamey.

The troops have been living with uncertainty since the junta 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, adding armored vehicles and helicopters to the drones and fighter jets already deployed.

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

For now, Niamey forbids French flights over its territory.

Read more:

Niger junta says a dozen soldiers killed in insurgent attack

Junta-ruled Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso sign Sahel security pact

Niger leaders slam UN chief for General Assembly snub

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