Russian soldiers have taken up residence at a base in Niamey that also hosts the US army, a US official told Reuters and the Associated Press (AP) on Friday (May 3), as Niger’s ruling junta demanded the departure American troops deployed in the country.

The military regime of Niger, resulting from a coup d’état perpetrated on July 26, 2023, denounced in March the military cooperation agreement in force with the United States, believing that the presence of American forces, deployed within the framework of the anti-jihadist fight, was now “illegal”. Washington agreed in mid-April to withdraw its soldiers from the country and announced that it was sending a delegation to Niamey to agree on the details of this withdrawal.

The United States has around a thousand soldiers in Niger, between Niamey and Agadez, in the north of the country, where they are mainly responsible for surveillance and the fight against terrorism, including in Libya. In Niger, the United States notably has a large drone base near Agadez, built for around $100 million.

“No major problem.”

After the coup that overthrew the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, the military regime quickly demanded the departure of soldiers from the former colonial power France and moved closer to Russia, like neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. , also led by the military and facing violence from jihadist groups.

According to a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the agency, the Russian soldiers did not wait for the Americans to leave to take up quarters in a hangar at Air Base 101, located near from Niamey International Airport and also used by the American army.

Asked about this, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin downplayed any risk to US troops or the possibility of Russian troops getting close to US military equipment. “The Russians are in a separate compound and do not have access to American forces or our equipment,” he said Friday, May 3, during a press conference in Honolulu. “The safety of our troops is essential to me. But for now, I don’t see a major problem here,” he added.

According to the Pentagon official, the Nigerien junta informed the Joe Biden administration of the deployment of sixty Russian soldiers in Niamey, a figure that the American army is not able to confirm.