Days after the U.S. accepted demands to withdraw American troops from Niger, the U.S. is also facing calls from its African neighbor, Chad, to remove its small contingent of troops. 

“We can confirm the beginning of discussions between the U.S. and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country,” Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Monday. The discussion will include a small delegation from the Pentagon and U.S. Africa Command.

The decision to pull 1,000 American troops from Niger will likely mean the end of operations at a $110 million U.S. air base there used for drone intelligence and surveillance operations in North and West Africa. The removal of troops also ends a military partnership between the two nations that the U.S. has invested millions of dollars in.

While the U.S. has long had a much smaller presence in Chad, Niger’s neighbor in the region of central Africa known as the Sahel, those troops may soon be under pressure to leave as well. Officials in the Sahel nation expressed disapproval with American military presence in an April 4 letter from Air Force Chief of Staff Idriss Amine Ahmed to Chad’s minister of armed forces, according to a letter viewed by Reuters

According to DOD reports, as of December 2023, there were 18 U.S. troops in Chad – 12 Marines, five Army soldiers and one from the Air Force. 

Ahmen said he had told the U.S. defense attache to halt U.S. activities at the Adji Kossei Air Base after “Americans” had failed to provide documents justifying their presence and that agreements on support for logistics and personnel would not suffice, according to Reuters.

The removal of American troops from both countries could upend U.S. counter-terrorism missions in the West African Sahel region, commander of U.S. Africa Command, Marine Corps Gen. Michael Langley told the Washington Post.

“If we lose our footprint in the Sahel, that will degrade our ability to do active watching and warning, including for homeland defense,” Langley said. 

However, the U.S. maintains that American troops “have not been asked to leave Chad,” according to Ryder. He did confirm ongoing discussions over the current Status of Forces Agreement, the formal pact that U.S. forces operate under in other countries. 

As for the letter, a spokesperson for the State Department said that the Chadian government communicates regularly with the U.S. Embassy on security cooperation through letters and other means, but could not discuss details of diplomatic correspondence.

“We are in ongoing conversations with Chadian officials about our security partnership. As Chad is focused on preparing for its Presidential elections on May 6, we anticipate consultations on the parameters of our security cooperation after the election,” the spokesperson said. 

In May, two of the country’s leaders will face off in its presidential election: Mohammed Debi, Chad’s transitional president and military junta leader who took power through a bloodless coup in 2021 after his father, the country’s longest serving president, died in a fight with rebels trying to overthrow the government; and Succes Masra, who was one of Debi’s major opposition voices, fled the country following the coup until he returned to serve as Prime Minister in January. 

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Kremlin influence

Liam Karr, a Salafi-Jihadi analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank said the letter follows an anti-West or specifically anti-French trend across the Sahel region with Western African countries like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso wanting “to reclaim sovereignty,” end French influence and its “neo-colonial practices.” 

“I think that going after a handful of U.S. guys is basically paying lip service to this whole anti-Western thing, given everything going on,” Karr said, adding that there are less than 100 U.S. troops in Chad. 

Beyond experiencing “persistent terrorist threats,” according to the U.S. State Department, Chad has contributed thousands of U.S. trained soldiers to various international and regional task forces dedicated to countering extremist groups operating in the Lake Chad region like ISIS-WA, al-Qa’ida, and Boko Haram. The capital, N’Djamena also hosts France’s largest operational military deployment in the world. 

In recent years, Chadian military forces have trained alongside American troops for exercises on combat casualty care, weapon skills, border control and peacekeeping operations. In January, the U.S. AFRICOM commander met with Chad’s military chief of staff to discuss regional security and Chadian efforts to counter violent extremism, according to the DOD. He also viewed the Chadian Air Force’s two C-208B light reconnaissance aircraft which were formally handed over by the U.S. to Chad in 2018 and are used for counter terrorism missions. 

“In the analytical community, everybody agrees that the African affiliates specifically in West Africa pose a very low threat to the U.S. homeland, if any, but the more sanctuary these guys get, the greater that risk becomes going forward even if it is small to non-existent,” Karr said. 

However, the comments from Chadian military officials might be also a part of Debi’s strategy to get assurances from the Kremlin to protect him and “make sure that he stays in power,” he said.

Despite possible grandstanding by Chad’s junta, Karr said it represents a larger concern for the U.S. in Africa – Russia and the Wagner group’s influence, Karr and another analyst wrote in an article for the Institute for the Study of War. While Russia wants to gain influence in the region, African countries are looking to the Kremlin for military assistance and most of all weapons.

“Russia is basically a lot more willing to play ball with authoritarian governments that may have a checkered human rights background,” Karr said. “If human rights issues are of any concern, which they are in a lot of these countries, the West might cut aid or hold aid for those reasons.” 

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