By John Ikani
France completed the withdrawal of its troops from Niger on Friday following the junta’s request, marking the end of years of military support.
The move has raised concerns among analysts about a potential gap in combating jihadi violence across the Sahel region of Africa.
The French Army General Staff informed The Associated Press via email that the last military aircraft and troops left Niger by the Dec. 22 deadline imposed by the junta, which severed ties with Paris after the July coup.
This week, France also announced the indefinite closure of its diplomatic mission in Niger.
President Emmanuel Macron, during a visit to a base in Jordan, clarified that although France would remain engaged in the Sahel, the approach would be different.
“We will continue to protect our interests over there, but our armies won’t be as permanently present, less stationary, and less exposed,” Macron explained.
The withdrawal of French troops is viewed by analysts as a setback for overall counterterrorism efforts in Niger and the Sahel. Niger was considered the last Western partner in the decade-long fight against jihadi groups in the region.
Ryan Cummings, director of Africa-focused security consulting company Signal Risk, expressed concern about the negative impact on counterterrorism efforts.
Previously, 1,500 French troops were actively involved in training and supporting the local military in Niger.
The country was envisioned as the base for regional counterterrorism operations after anti-French sentiment grew in Mali and Burkina Faso, both led by juntas that had expelled French troops.
After overthrowing Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani’s junta severed military ties with France and sought defence cooperation with Russia.
The withdrawal of foreign military missions has already led to a surge in attacks in Niger, affecting security, according to Oluwole Ojewale of the Institute for Security Studies.
The junta in Niger has formed a security alliance with military governments in Mali and Burkina Faso to coordinate counterterrorism operations in the Sahel.
However, the immediate impact of the French troop withdrawal is expected to be felt in western Niger’s Tillabéri region, a known hotspot for extremism, potentially allowing violent extremist organizations to exploit the vacuum and expand their operations in the Sahel.