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Fewer drones, aerial assets: France plans reduction of military presence in Niger

Amid continuing talks on the future role of French troops in Niger, a source told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday that France plans to reduce its military presence in the West African nation. The negotiations come after Niger’s military junta, which seized power in a July 26 coup, called for the “swift” departure of French forces.

The source told FRANCE 24 that France is preparing to withdraw most of its drones and aerial reconnaissance assets from Niger while maintaining an “autonomous force” in the country.

“The French army was there [in Niger] to carry out anti-terrorist operations. As this is no longer the case, some of our resources are no longer needed, so we’re going to be streamlining,” said the source, adding that the capacity to carry out attacks and defensive maneuvers “autonomously” will nevertheless be maintained, with some French soldiers remaining on site.

Around 1,500 French troops are currently deployed at three bases in Niger as part of France‘s wider fight against jihadists in the Sahel region.

The plans for a reduction in force come as French officials hold talks with Niger’s regular army officers, with whom Paris has long cooperated, according to French daily “Le Monde.” Talks are not being held with the leaders of Niger’s putsch, the paper said.

Relations between France and its former colony rapidly deteriorated after a July 26 coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Paris has stood by Bazoum since he was elected in 2021 and has declared the coup “illegitimate“. On August 25, the junta gave France’s ambassador 48 hours to leave the country. Paris responded by saying the country’s new military rulers had “no authority” to make such a demand. 

Niger’s military-appointed premier, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, said Monday that talks were under way to negotiate a “swift” departure for French troops. 

A day later, the French defence ministry confirmed the discussions, acknowledging that “the question arose of maintaining some of our forces”, notably due to the need to maintain decommissioned equipment such as drones, helicopters and fighter jets.

‘Streamlining’ French resources in Niger

The plans to reduce French resources in Niger come amid reports that some French troops could be redeployed in the region, notably in neighbouring Chad.

French troops in Niger were focused on anti-jihadist operations before the coup. Military operations included providing the Nigerien army with fire support (via aircraft) and intelligence gathered during surveillance flights.

On August 3, Niger’s coup leaders renounced several military cooperation agreements with France, including one with a month-long notice period that expired on Sunday.

The coup has been seen as a new major blow to French influence in the region following military takeovers in Mali in 2020 and Burkina Faso in 2022.

An August 30 coup also overthrew Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose father Omar was a French ally and held power for more than four decades.

Source: France 24

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