The last French troops withdrew from Niger on Friday, marking an end to more than a decade of French anti-jihadist operations in west Africa’s Sahel region, Niger’s military announced.
The French exit from Niger leaves hundreds of US military personnel, and a number of Italian and German troops, remaining in the country.
“Today’s date (…) marks the end of the disengagement process of French forces in the Sahel,” Niger army lieutenant Salim Ibrahim said.
France said it would pull out its roughly 1,500 soldiers and pilots from Niger after the former French colony’s new ruling generals demanded they depart following a coup on July 26.
It was the third time in less than 18 months that French troops were sent packing from a country in the Sahel.
They were forced to leave fellow former colonies Mali last year and Burkina Faso earlier this year following military takeovers in those countries too.
All three nations are battling a jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012, later spreading to Niger and Burkina Faso.
But a string of coups in the region since 2020 has seen relations nosedive with France and a pivot toward greater rapprochement with Russia.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced in September the withdrawal of all French troops from Niger by the end of the year, with a first contingent leaving in October.
Perilous Desert Routes
Most French troops in Niger were at an air base in the capital Niamey.
Smaller groups were deployed alongside Nigerien soldiers to the border with Mali and Burkina Faso, where jihadist groups linked to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda are believed to operate.
The withdrawal was a complex operation, with road convoys having to drive up to 1,700 kilometres (1,000 miles) on sometimes perilous desert routes to the French center for Sahel operations in neighboring Chad.
The first French road convoy of troops withdrawing from Niger arrived in neighbouring Chad’s capital N’Djamena in October, after 10 days on the road.
From Chad, French troops can leave by air with their most sensitive equipment, though most of the rest has to be moved by land and sea.
According to a source close to the matter, some of the French containers carrying equipment were to be driven from Chad on to the port of Douala in Cameroon, before they can be ferried back to France by sea.
US, German Troops
France’s former ally in Niger, overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum, remains under house arrest.
A US official said in October that Washington was keeping about 1,000 military personnel in Niger but was no longer actively training or assisting Niger forces.
The United States said earlier this month that it was ready to resume cooperation with Niger on the condition its military regime committed to a rapid transition to civilian rule.
Niger’s rulers want up to three years for a transition back to a civilian government.
Military leaders in Niamey early this month said they were ending two European Union security and defence missions in the country.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius visited Niger earlier this week to discuss the fate of around 120 German troops based in the country.
Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in September banded together in a joint defense pact to fight jihadists.
France’s withdrawal from Mali last year left a bitter aftertaste, after the bases it once occupied in Menaka, Gossi, and Timbuktu were rapidly taken over by Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group.