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The US military will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger

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The US military will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger
News

News

The US military will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger

2024-04-21 00:03 Last Updated At:00:10

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The United States will begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger, U.S. officials said Saturday, in what experts say is a blow to Washington and its allies in the region in terms of staging security operations in the Sahel. The planned departure comes as U.S. officials said they were trying to find a new military agreement.

The prime minister of Niger, appointed by the ruling military junta, Ali Lamine Zeine, and U.S. deputy secretary of state Kurt Campbell, agreed on Friday that the two nations would begin to plan the withdrawal of American troops, the U.S. State Department told The Associated Press in an email Saturday.

A U.S. official said there was no timeline for withdrawal besides talks set to start in the coming days about next steps. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the private diplomatic discussions. An American delegation to coordinate the details of the withdrawal process will be dispatched soon.

Niger plays a central role in the U.S. military’s operations in Africa’s Sahel region, an area on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Washington is concerned about the spread of jihadi violence, where local groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida and the Islamic State groups. Niger is home to a major U.S. air base, in the city of Agadez, about 920 kilometers (550 miles) from the capital, Niamey, using it for manned and unmanned surveillance flights and other operations. The U.S. has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training Niger’s military since it began operations there in 2013.

But relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.

There was an attempt on the behalf of the U.S. to revise the military agreement with Niger that would allow them to stay, U.S. officials told the AP. But the agreement between Zeine and Campbell shows that the effort has failed.

A separate senior U.S. State Department official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about sensitive diplomatic talks, told the AP on Saturday that Niger's junta made a decision that they don't want any foreign forces in the country, including the U.S. and that the security partnership was ending for the time being. The junta told the U.S. that Russia's presence was to train Nigeriens on how to operate the equipment. The official said that the U.S. had valid concerns about some of the choices the junta was making, specifically about the potential for Russian and American troops to be colocated.

The loss of access to air bases in Niger is a major setback for the U.S. and its allies in the region because of its strategic location for security operations in the Sahel, said Peter Pham, former U.S. special envoy for the Sahel region.

“In the short term, they will be hard to replace,” said Pham, adding that remaining European Union military presence would likely pull out of Niger following the news of a U.S. departure.

The rupture of relations between the two nations would impact the development and humanitarian aid funds destined for Niger, a country at the bottom of many indicators of well-being, Pham said.

Insa Garba Saidou, a local activist who assists Niger’s military rulers with their communications, told the AP that American troops could potentially return after negotiations and that the ruling Niger junta, the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, wants to maintain a good working relationship with the U.S.

The U.S should find a new mode of engagement that departs from the failed counterterrorism cooperation model of the past decade, and continues to press other states in the Sahel region on accountability and human rights abuses, said Hannah Rae Armstrong, a senior consultant on Sahel peace and security.

The two officials said that Niger and the U.S would continue to work together on areas of shared interest.

FILE - A U.S. and Niger flag are raised side by side at the base camp for air forces and other personnel supporting the construction of Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, April 16, 2018. The United States is attempting to create a new military agreement with Niger that would allow it to remain in the country, weeks after the junta said its presence was no longer justified, two Western officials told The Associated Press Friday April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Carley Petesch, File)

FILE - A U.S. and Niger flag are raised side by side at the base camp for air forces and other personnel supporting the construction of Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, April 16, 2018. The United States is attempting to create a new military agreement with Niger that would allow it to remain in the country, weeks after the junta said its presence was no longer justified, two Western officials told The Associated Press Friday April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Carley Petesch, File)

France and Belgium released statements supporting the world’s top war crimes court’s request for arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas, after Israel and the United States both harshly condemned the effort.

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. While Netanyahu and Gallant do not face imminent arrest, the announcement Monday was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

Israeli forces raided a militant stronghold Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing at least seven and wounding several, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The raid into Jenin is part of months of surging violence in the Palestinian territory.

Sri Lanka announced a national day of mourning Tuesday after Iranian officials announced that President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were found dead Monday, hours after their helicopter crashed in fog, leaving the Islamic Republic without two key leaders. Iran backs Hamas, and the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah, also supported by Tehran, has fired rockets at Israel. In April, Iran launched its own an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.

At least 35,000 Palestinians have died in the war, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million Palestinians has been displaced within the territory, often multiple times.

Currently:

— Iran's president and foreign minister die in a helicopter crash.

— ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu.

— These photos show Palestinians’ quick exodus from Rafah after Israel issued evacuation orders.

— Israeli forces kill at least seven Palestinians in a West Bank raid.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here's the latest:

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces raided a militant stronghold Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing at least seven and wounding several, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The Israeli military said it struck militants during an operation into the city. In addition to the seven fatalities, the Palestinian Health Ministry said nine people were injured. Among those killed was Dr. Ossayed Kamal Jabareen, the surgery specialist at Jenin Governmental Hospital who was killed on his way to his work, according to Dr. Wissam Abu Baker, the hospital’s director.

The raid was ongoing and the casualty numbers could rise.

The raid into Jenin is part of months of surging violence in the Palestinian territory. Nearly 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank since the start of the war in Gaza, part of an Israeli crackdown on militancy in the territory. Attacks by Palestinians against Israelis have also increased.

Saraya al-Quds, the military arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, said its fighters battled Israeli forces raiding Jenin.

Israel has arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians since the start of the war.

France and Belgium each released statements supporting the world’s top war crimes court's request for arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas.

International Criminal Court top prosecutor Karim Khan accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. While Netanyahu and Gallant do not face imminent arrest, the announcement Monday was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

“France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations,” its Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Monday, around the same time Belgium Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib posted on X, “Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators," along with a statement.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the move as disgraceful and antisemitic. United States President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lankan government declared Tuesday a national mourning day for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The government also ordered all state institutions to hoist the national flag at half-staff.

Raisi visited Sri Lanka in April to inaugurate a long-delayed hydropower and irrigation project. The project, valued at $514 million, was started in 2010. It was scheduled for completion in 2015 but was delayed by the sanctions, technical issues and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Raisi was the first Iranian leader to visit Sri Lanka since then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited in 2008.

A man lays flowers near a photo of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his colleagues at a makeshift memorial at the Iranian Embassy in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 20, 2024. Raisi, a hard-line protege of the country's supreme leader who helped oversee the mass executions of thousands in 1988 and later led the country as it enriched uranium near weapons-grade levels, launched a major attack on Israel and experienced mass protests, has died Sunday, May 19. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A man lays flowers near a photo of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his colleagues at a makeshift memorial at the Iranian Embassy in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 20, 2024. Raisi, a hard-line protege of the country's supreme leader who helped oversee the mass executions of thousands in 1988 and later led the country as it enriched uranium near weapons-grade levels, launched a major attack on Israel and experienced mass protests, has died Sunday, May 19. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Palestinians are waiting for aid trucks to cross in central Gaza Strip on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinians are waiting for aid trucks to cross in central Gaza Strip on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on Monday, May 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on Monday, May 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press briefing after his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Haniyeh is one of the three Hamas leaders believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press briefing after his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Haniyeh is one of the three Hamas leaders believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant pauses while making a brief statement to the media with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, at The Kirya, Israel's Ministry of Defense, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Tel Aviv. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday, May 20, 2024, he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu, his defense minister Gallant, and three Hamas leaders, are believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, File)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant pauses while making a brief statement to the media with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, at The Kirya, Israel's Ministry of Defense, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Tel Aviv. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday, May 20, 2024, he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu, his defense minister Gallant, and three Hamas leaders, are believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, File)

FILE - Exterior view of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, April 30, 2024. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said Monday, May 20, 2024, that he’s seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders in connection with their actions during the seven-month war. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

FILE - Exterior view of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, April 30, 2024. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said Monday, May 20, 2024, that he’s seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders in connection with their actions during the seven-month war. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

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