A small number of U.S. government personnel assigned to Niger who left the country have not been replaced, but their departures were not as a result of the July 26 coup in which the Nigerien military assumed power, the Pentagon clarified on Saturday.
“The number of U.S. forces in Niger between late July and September has remained at approximately 1,100 personnel,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Saturday. “Fewer than 50 personnel have departed Niger as part of previously scheduled redeployments or for medical reasons unrelated to the ongoing situation in the country, who subsequently were not backfilled as sending in replacements was deemed not mission essential.”
Drone operations out of those bases ceased after Niger’s military took power in July. The U.S. government has not described the military takeover as a “coup.” Doing so would risk triggering US laws that would end American economic and security assistance to Niger.
Ryder’s statement was released two days after Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters that “some non-essential personnel and contractors” Niger in July, but she could not specify how many or if they included active-duty troops.
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“Our force posture in Niger hasn’t changed,” Singh said at a Pentagon news conference. “Our essential personnel are still in the country right now, in Niger.”
U.S. military planners are looking at how many service members are needed in Niger, a U.S. official told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
Reporters pressed Singh on Thursday about why the Defense Department had not previously announced that U.S. personnel had left Niger.
Singh stressed that routine fluctuations in troop levels do not translate into a change in the U.S. military’s overall force posture.
“Just like on the eastern flank, in Europe and in Poland, we have troops that come back and forth, and sometimes that posture could be around 80,000. Sometimes it could be around 78,000 – that doesn’t mean our force posture has changed,” Singh said. “There’s a movement of folks going back and forth.”
Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces Europe/Africa, told reporters in August that the U.S. military is making plans in case it is ordered to evacuate both of its drone bases in Niger, but no such order has been given or appears to be imminent.
On Thursday, Reuters first reported that U.S. troops and military equipment in Niger are moving from Niamey to the base near Agadez.
The move is being done out of “an abundance of caution,” not due to a threat against U.S. troops in Niger, Singh told reporters at Thursday’s news conference.
A small force of U.S. troops will remain at the drone base in Niamey, she said.
“We’re not pulling people out right now,” Singh said. “We’re just moving personnel and assets to Air Base 201 [in Agadez].”
UPDATE: 09/09/2023; this story was updated with a statement from Air Force Brig. Gen Pat Ryder.
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