The military junta that overthrew Niger’s elected government in 2023 has ordered American forces to vacate their last remaining air base in the country, which has been critical to counter-terrorism operations in the troubled Sahel region.

Junta representative Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane revealed the decision on 16 March following talks between senior US officials and the military government.

Abdramane characterised the continued flights over Nigerien territory as illegal, according to the Associated Press, adding the ruling National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland is ending the previous agreement allowing US forces to operate in the country.

The Pentagon confirms an American delegation visited Niger to discuss “concerns over Niger’s potential relationships with Russia and Iran, as well as the status of US forces in the country”.

C-17 Air Base 201 Agadez Niger c USAF

Source: US Air Force

A Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport lands at Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger. Washington has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing such facilities in the troubled West African country to support counter-terrorism operations in the region

Deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh on 18 March said the Pentagon is aware of the 16 March statement from Niamey.

“We are working through diplomatic channels to seek clarification,” Singh says. “These are ongoing discussions.”

According to the Pentagon, US Africa Command’s leader General Michael Langley and assistant secretary of state for African affairs Molly Phee met with Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine, as well as members of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland.

US forces are currently operating from a facility called Air Base 201 in the city of Agadez. The Pentagon vacated its main site, Air Base 101 in the capital Niamey, in the weeks following the coup d’etat against President Mohamed Bazoum.

Air Base 101 had served as a critical hub for supporting US and French counter-terrorism forces in the region with intelligence and reconnaissance flights, as well as armed uncrewed air system sorties.

C-17 Globemaster lands at Air Base 201 in Niger

Source: US Air Force

A NATO Strategic Airlift Capability C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft lands at Air Base 201 with personnel and cargo in Agadez, Niger in October 2023

Paris fully withdrew its troops from Niger in December. French forces had been stationed in Niger after Paris ended a nine-year counter-terrorism mission in neighbouring Mali in 2022.

Washington says there are still around 1,000 US contractors and military personnel at Air Base 201.

While the US Air Force in September said Washington had reached a tentative agreement to resume some reconnaissance flights from the Agadez base, the Pentagon on 18 March said the earlier counter-terrorism mission was effectively halted following July 2023’s coup.

Singh says forces currently in the country are primarily engaged in protecting personnel and assets at Air Base 201 – presumably in the hope operations will be allowed to resume.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft and Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic transports from the US Air Force both operate out of Agadez.

Washington invested some $250 million into just Air Base 201 to develop infrastructure capable of supporting such flights.