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The U.S. has cut its troop presence in Niger by almost half

U.S. troops in Niger went from around 1,100 in September to 648 in December.
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The U.S. has cut almost half of its troop presence in Niger in West Africa, according to figures in a White House letter sent to Congress last week. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Rose Gudex.

The U.S. has decreased its troop presence in Niger by almost half according to figures in a White House letter sent to Congress last week.

The number of U.S. troops deployed to Niger appears to be 648, according to the White House letter, down by at least 400 since September, when military forces in Niger took over the government. In October, the U.S. officially recognized the events as a coup d’etat, which restricts what it can provide to Niger in terms of hundreds of millions in foreign assistance, military training and equipment.

In June, the U.S. military had 1,016 personnel in Niger, according to the President’s letter that month.

“Africa Command does not typically provide exact numbers or breakdown in whether those personnel are military, civilian or contractor, however the number in the War Power letter is consistent with the approximate number of uniformed military,” according to a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command.

The latest numbers were sent to lawmakers by the White House in accordance with reporting requirements of the War Powers Act. The resolutions under which the White House deploys troops around the world in anti-terrorist roles date to 2001 and require that Congress be informed of troop deployments “equipped for combat.”

The U.S. troops in Niger conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations and support regional counterterrorism operations with partner forces, according to the letter, which is consistent with reports in October that troops in Niger were assigned to one of two U.S. drone bases.

The U.S. military operates two drone bases in Niger: One in the country’s capital, Niamey, dubbed Air Base 101, and a second, Air Base 201. The base’s drone operations ceased after Niger’s military took power in July. Up until the military takeover, Niger had been an important partner in the U.S. military’s operations against al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in the African Sahel region.

In September, the DOD was reassessing its force levels in the region. That month, officials also announced that U.S. troops resumed drone flights for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations “to monitor for threats for purposes of force protection.” 

The U.S. has spent more than $100 million on the Agadez base for drone operations and has invested resources that they’re not looking to abandon despite the coup, said Sarah Harrison, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. The larger priority is to stay in the region and prevent Russia via the Wagner group or China from gaining influence.

“I think their focus is more strategic competition and push for democratic reform than anything else,” Harrison said.

Harrison said the downsizing of troops in Niger could mean the U.S. is trying to hold down the base while the government is in transition.

About 20,000 U.S. troops deployed worldwide

The letter includes groups with a “nexus” to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, AUMF, which “enables U.S. forces” to enter into hostilities with Al-Qaida and derivative groups, said Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “What you’re not going to necessarily see in this report is a broader posture in the Middle East or elsewhere.” 

The War Powers reports are often accompanied by a classified annex with specific information about counterterrorism employments to select countries, said Brian Finucane, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group.

The numbers are not a full tally of the U.S. military’s full footprint across the Middle East region or of all deployed troops around the globe. Several permanent U.S. bases like those in Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain are not covered. 

But the numbers do paint a picture of the tens of thousands of Americans deployed overseas in roles to “conduct counterterrorism operations and to advise, assist, and accompany security forces of select foreign partners on counterterrorism operations.” 

According to the executive memo, the U.S. has 2,088 troops in Saudi Arabia meant to protect regional forces and interests against hostilities by Iran and Iran-backed groups and to provide air and missile defense capabilities. In Jordan, there are 3,188 U.S. military personnel for Defeat-ISIS operations. In Lebanon, there are 76 U.S. troops, according to the letter. 

The White House also said 416 U.S. troops are in Egypt, assigned to or are supporting the Multinational Force and Observers tasked with supervising security agreements established under the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. 

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Additional troops are noted for several countries in the letter as part of U.S. counterterrorism operations but specific numbers are not included for Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Philippines, Turkey, and the East Africa region. The Pentagon has previously said roughly 2,500 troops are in Iraq and 900 are deployed to Syria to work alongside local security partners to prevent ISIS from reestablishing its caliphate.

U.S. troops in the Middle East not accounted for in the War Powers disclosure letter include the roughly 8,000 troops based at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, 13,500 troops at Ali al-Salem Air Base in Kuwait, and UAE’s Gulf Air Warfare Center at Al Dhafra Air Base with approximately 3,500 personnel. A few hundred troops are in Oman and the Navy’s Fifth Fleet is in Bahrain with around 8,000. All of those troops are in the region under separate agreements with local governments.

The letter does note U.S. troops deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for detention operations for 30 detainees as part of the 2001 AUMF authority.

The U.S. also has nearly 578 troops among the Kosovo Force, led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in cooperation with local authorities, bilateral partners, and international institutions. Approximately 80,000 U.S. military personnel are assigned or deployed to NATO countries in Europe.

Two decades under one authorization

In September, the House Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on reforming the AUMF

“Any replacement AUMF should continue to provide similar flexibility to add new groups not listed by name,” Christopher Maier, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict said in his testimony. “A new or updated AUMF should, however, be flexible enough to add groups as the situation changes.”

Last week, U.S. Central Command released its November data for 40 partnered missions with local forces in Iraq and Syria, resulting in four suspected ISIS fighters being killed and 33 detained.

Since Israel’s war with Hamas erupted on Oct. 7, U.S. troops in the region have come under close to 100 attacks from drones, rockets, and at least one ballistic cruise missile which the U.S. is attributing to Iran-backed groups. While the Pentagon has acknowledged the attacks in the wake of Israel’s war, officials have tried to draw a distinct line between the two events.

In response, the Biden Administration directed U.S. bases to conduct precision strikes against facilities in Iraq and eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-backed groups. 

With the U.S. deployment of air defense systems like the Avenger and Patriot to the region, 

Lord said that probably means more troops strategically positioned around the Middle East for the protection of U.S. forces and installations.

“I directed these discrete military actions consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive and to conduct United States foreign relations,” Biden wrote.

In East Africa, more specifically in Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti, U.S. troops are in place to counter ISIS and forces from the Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab. In addition to training local security forces, troops have also conducted airstrikes in Somalia against al-Shabaab and performed counter-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

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