• Sunday, May 19, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Russian troops enter base housing US military in Niger, US official says

Russian troops enter base housing US military in Niger, US official says

Russian military personnel have entered an air base in Niger that is hosting U.S. troops, a senior U.S. defence told Reuters, a move that follows a decision by Niger’s junta to expel U.S. forces from the country.

The military officers ruling the West African nation have told the U.S. to withdraw its nearly 1,000 military personnel from the country, which until a coup last year had been a key partner for Washington’s fight against insurgents who have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more.

A senior U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russian forces were not mingling with U.S. troops but were using a separate hanger at Airbase 101, which is next to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger’s capital.

The move by Russia’s military puts U.S. and Russian troops in close proximity at a time when the nation’s military and diplomatic rivalry is increasingly acrimonious over the conflict in Ukraine.

It also raises questions about the fate of U.S. installations in the country following a withdrawal.

“(The situation) is not great but in the short-term manageable,” the official said.

The Nigerien and Russian embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. and its allies have been forced to move troops out of a number of African countries following coups that brought to power groups eager to distance themselves from Western governments. In addition to the impending departure from Niger, U.S. troops have also left Chad in recent days, while French forces have been kicked out of Mali and Burkina Faso.

At the same time, Russia is seeking to strengthen relations with African nations, pitching Moscow as a friendly country with no colonial baggage in the continent.

Mali, for example, has in recent years become one of Russia’s closest African allies, with the Wagner Group mercenary force deploying there to fight jihadist insurgents.

Russia has described relations with the United States as “below zero” because of U.S. military and financial aid for Ukraine in the war now approaching the end of its second year.