The US military may soon begin evacuation flights from Niger under a new agreement covering the withdrawal of American military forces from that West African country.

In a joint statement released on 19 May, the governments in Washington and Niamey said they had reached a “disengagement agreement” that will see the USA remove its troops from Nigerien territory.

The Pentagon says it has already started pulling out American personnel, with removals to be completed no later than 15 September – a timeline to which Niger has agreed.

Under the withdrawal deal, Niamey granted clearances for American military aircraft to overfly and land in Nigerien territory for the purposes of evacuating US personnel.

Pentagon officials say they plan to remove all lethal and sensitive equipment from an air base still housing American troops, but may leave some unspecified hardware in the landlocked country if it proves too difficult or costly to evacuate by air.

C-17 Globemaster lands at Air Base 201 in Niger

Source: US Air Force

US Air Force C-17 transports and MQ-9 UAVs provided operational support to US, French and local partner forces over an 11-year mission in Niger

The development stands to end a US counter-terrorism mission that began in 2013. It also shows the limits of US diplomatic power.

Washington had sought to maintain its troop presence in Niger, which had become the Pentagon’s key hub in the increasingly tumultuous Sahel region. The USA has invested millions of dollars to build out two facilities in Niger – Air Base 101 Niamey and Air Base 201 in the city of Agadez.

Niger C130s

Source: US Department of Defense

The USA has spent more than a decade supporting Niger’s military, including by transferring three Lockheed Martin C-130 transports to the country

Boeing C-17 transport and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 uncrewed air vehicles both operated from the airfields, providing logistics, intelligence and combat air support to American and French counter-terrorism forces in the region.

The Pentagon has also been providing materiel support to the Nigerien military, including by transferring three Lockheed Martin C-130H transports to the country.

However, a worsening political, economic and security environment spurred Paris to withdraw its forces from neighbouring Mali in 2022, ending that nine-year military mission.

While US forces remained in Niger, the scope of their mission had been narrowed after a deadly ambush in 2017 killed four US Army Green Berets advising the Nigerien army in operations against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Sentiment turned more against the American presence in 2023 when Nigerien generals overthrew the country’s elected president in a coup d’etat. The junta subsequently ordered Washington to remove its forces in March.

The Pentagon at the time downplayed the demand, saying it was in talks with the new authorities in Niamey to resume military flights and maintain the American presence, which at the time numbered around 1,000 personnel.

Not only does that effort appear to have borne no fruit, but Russian personnel have reportedly already moved into the capital city’s Air Base 101 – which the USA had previously vacated in favour of the more removed 201 facility.

Niger’s current military government requested assistance from the Russian mercenary force Wagner Group shortly after the March coup.