After Niger exit, list of possible US allies includes Libya, general says

With American troops no longer welcome in Niger after a military coup, the U.S. is looking for new allies in the region, including Libya, the top official for Africa Command said Monday.

“We’re working through diplomatic means and also defense means with Libya,” Marine Corps Gen. Michael Langley told reporters ahead of the 2024 African Chiefs of Defense Conference in Gaborone, Botswana. After Langley’s remarks Monday on growing engagement with Libya, a defense official told Task & Purpose that the U.S. does not have troops in Libya, nor does it have plans to deploy troops there soon.

Langley’s comments come after the Pentagon announced that the U.S. would withdraw its troops based in Niger. Before the slated withdrawal, the U.S. had roughly 1,000 troops and defense contractors in Niger at its two bases, Air Base 101 and Air Base 201.   

On Monday, Langley told reporters that the military was “on pace” to “complete movement of equipment and personnel” in Niger by the mutually agreed upon date of Sept. 15. The general did not detail the type of capabilities, weapon systems or technology being moved but said that the U.S. would be done moving equipment and personnel from Airbase 101, near the capital of Niamey, “within a few weeks.” Then the focus will be on moving assets from air base 201, he said.

Reengagement with Libya would mark a turning point in U.S. relations with the war torn nation which crumbled after the terror attack on the American embassy in Benghazi in 2012. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American embassy personnel, including Air Force veteran Sean Smith, were killed in the attack. In 2020, Libyan national Mustafa Al-Imam was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for the attack.

In 2014, the U.S. shut its embassy in Tripoli and moved diplomatic operations to Tunis in the neighboring country of Tunisia. In March 2023, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was “actively” working to re-establish its diplomatic presence in Libya. 

Langley said there would be representation from “both sides of the Libyan country” at the defense conference, including the Libya National Army and Government of National Unity. 

The UN-backed GNA was established in 2015 as a unified rival to factions born out of the 2014 elections in Libya, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The GNA is based out of Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and controls areas in the western part of Libya with the remaining parts of the country’s official military alongside local militias. 

The Libya National Army, a force of around 25,000 fighters which controls large parts of east and south Libya. The LNA is led by Khalifa Haftar, a former general who helped Moammar Gadhafi take power in 1969. He also allegedly worked with the CIA in the 1990s after breaking with Qaddafi. 

With the U.S. military’s posture change in the Sahel region, Langley has visited a host of west African nations to discuss counter terrorism strategies. 

“When I talk to all these countries, they’re not asking for U.S. boots on the ground to any scope or magnitude. They say it’s their fight. They’re looking for capabilities,” Langley said, adding that those capabilities include intelligence sharing or being able to identify “warnings for themselves.”

Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told reporters Monday ahead of the conference that the U.S. was looking at partnerships with other west African countries to fill the gap left by the Niger withdrawal.

Shortly after officials in Niger demanded American troops out, its eastern neighbor, Chad, had the same request for U.S. troops based at Adji Kossei Air Base near N’Djamena. In April, the Pentagon said it was repositioning some of its military forces in Chad.

On Monday, Langley said that the U.S. maintains its presence of “a few troops” in Chad for the Multinational Joint Task Force, an international coalition aimed at combating Boko Haram and other regional terrorist groups in the Lake Chad Basin.

Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

Russia, China influence

While discussing growing influence from Russia and China on the continent, Langley said that the U.S. has heard from new countries in the west, across the Sahel and in northern Africa who are looking to further their military and diplomatic relationships. Some of the countries in talks with U.S. officials have “been in dire straits,” he said, and “have reached out to us because they know the intrinsic value that we bring to the table.” 

“We’re not coming up here saying that the panacea is just building more strength in their military. We offer whole of governance,” Langley said, adding that U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department officials would be present at the defense conference.

While the U.S. is expanding its reach in Africa, Langley also said that China has been “actively seeking and engaging” with a number of countries in the east and western part of the continent.

“They too have been trying to engage with these countries and trying to replicate what we do so well in building partnership in capacity,” Langley said. “But they just don’t do it as well as we do.”

The general also noted China’s new naval base in Djibouti as something the U.S. military is keeping an eye on to decipher their Africa strategy.

“We’re actually watching it and trying to determine what their overall objectives are. 

Is it power projection? Is it aerial denial, anti-access?” he said. “We’re watching that all the time to determine what China’s overall intentions are engaging with these other countries.”

While the U.S. susses out China’s objectives, the military is also watching Russian influence – especially misinformation campaigns which Langley said was the reason for French military forces being kicked out of Mali and Burkina Faso.

“I see that there is a methodology that the Russian Federation’s really trying to take a root in, even Post-Wagner and they’re heightening it, trying to get geopolitical advantage of these African countries through this disinformation campaign, trying to go against the rule of law or international rules based order,” Langley said.

The latest on Task & Purpose

Patty Nieberg Avatar

Patty Nieberg

Sr. Staff Writer

Patty is a senior staff writer for Task & Purpose. She has covered the military and national defense for five years, including embedding with the National Guard during Hurricane Florence and covering legal proceedings for a former al Qaeda commander at Guantanamo Bay. Her previous bylines can be found at the Associated Press, Bloomberg Government, Washington Post, The New York Times, and ABC.