Nigerien and American flags are raised at the opening ceremony of Flintlock 2018 at Agadez, Niger on 11 April, 2018. Flintlock is U.S. Africa Command's premier and largest annual Special Operations Forces exercise.

Nigerien and American flags are raised at the opening ceremony of Flintlock 2018 at Agadez, Niger on 11 April, 2018. Flintlock is U.S. Africa Command's premier and largest annual Special Operations Forces exercise. (Eric Smith/U.S. Army)

A U.S. delegation will present the government of Niger this week with detailed plans for shuttering two key American bases and withdrawing all troops, officials said, as the Biden administration moves after months of strained negotiations to comply with the African nation’s decision to terminate a valued counterterrorism mission.

Senior Defense Department officials, including Chris Maier, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Lt. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, who oversees force development on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, began talks with Nigerien officials Wednesday.

The discussions represent a significant development in the months-long standoff over the U.S. military presence there and the nature of the two countries’ broader relationship. It comes as Niger’s prime minister, installed following a 2023 military coup, accuses the United States of seeking to dictate his country’s foreign dealings and blames Washington for the breakdown of what had been an important security partnership.

Several senior U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive bilateral discussions, discussed the ongoing effort to prepare for the departure from two American bases, which have been the sites of regional drone operations for more than a decade, and the exit of about 1,000 U.S. personnel, including members of the military, civilians and contractors.

While U.S. officials had held out hope for months that a full withdrawal could be avoided in the wake of the Biden administration’s decision to suspend most military aid due to the coup, they are now moving ahead with that plan. Whether cooperation can resume in earnest in the future remains unknown.

“The time for us to address future partnership with the CNSP will be after they see and understand our clear plan to fully withdraw,” a senior defense official said, using an acronym for Niger’s new government. “The burden of proof is on us.”

The official declined to disclose how long it would take the U.S. military to complete its withdrawal once that process begins, saying that the government of Niger must be informed of the timeline first.

He noted that once a withdrawal order is given, it will take several weeks before the first shipments of equipment will be ready to be flown out, but said that the military can begin immediately to rotate out troops who have been stationed in Niger, some whose tours have been extended as negotiations have dragged on, and replace them with specialized personnel needed for base closure.

Niger’s government, in a social media post Wednesday, said the talks with Maier and Anderson, who were joined by U.S. Ambassador to Niger Kathleen FitzGibbon, represented an important step following Niamey’s decision this spring to end the U.S. troop presence, which in turn was a “turning point in relations between the two countries.”

The government said the plans presented by the U.S. side would be discussed by Nigerien officials with the goal of ensuring the American departure would occur under “the best possible conditions, guaranteeing order, security and compliance with set deadlines.”

A second U.S. official said remaining American troops are focused on assessing what equipment must be transported out of Niger when forces depart and what can be left behind. He said those decisions will depend partly on the value and sensitivity of individual items - weapons, ammunition and communications gear must go, for example, but things like vehicles or construction equipment might stay - and the volume of transport aircraft that will be available to ferry out people and gear.

In the meantime, U.S. forces have had little interaction with a contingent of Russian troops who are occupying the same air base where some U.S. personnel are stationed. Niger’s decision to invite in Kremlin troops as military ties with Washington have faltered has been another point of friction with the United States, which is locked in a major confrontation with Moscow over its war in Ukraine.

“Obviously, there was a little angst with that news in and amongst the troops themselves, but since then, it’s settled and I think everybody’s resorted to being professional about it,” the second official said of the arrival of Russian forces. “No issue from either side.”

American officials do plan to ask Nigerien officials to help them ensure that sensitive items or facilities don’t fall into Russian hands after the expected U.S. departure.

The officials also said they are working to troubleshoot issues with Niger’s government, which had prohibited some inbound flights carrying medical supplies - although a shipment of medicine arrived recently and the pharmacy at the air base is now fully stocked - and made it difficult for new personnel to arrive. Officials have noted that the CNSP government has granted all requests to fly out troops requiring medical treatment outside Niger.

“As we encounter these challenges, we’re finding the way like everyone else, to be creative and work around it,” the second official said. He said it had been a trying situation for troops grappling with months of uncertainty about the future of their mission and deployments, but commanders were trying to provide mental health and other support.

The Biden administration is also working to line up an alternate platform for the U.S. effort to address a growing Islamist extremist movement in the Sahel. Without their bases in Niger, American officials will no longer be able to contain the threat posed by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State “from the inside out,” as the first official put it.

“Now, we are transitioning to going outside-in to the Sahel,” the official said, “because we have lost some of our access to the Sahel for now.”

American officials are looking for “willing partners,” he said, focusing on Ivory Coast and Benin as potential possibilities. U.S. Africa Command’s commander, Marine Gen. Michael Langley, made visits to those countries in the past month. Chason reported from Dakar, Senegal. John Hudson contributed to this report.

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