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US, Niger begin talks on exit of American troops

 Protesters react as a man holds up a sign demanding that soldiers from the United States Army leave Niger without negotiation during a demonstration in Niamey, on April 13, 2024. [AFP]

The United States has begun discussions with Niger on withdrawing the more than 1,000 American personnel in the military-ruled country, which has been a key base for regional counter-terrorism operations, officials said Monday.

Niger's government -- a military junta that ousted the country's president last year -- said in March that it was ending a military cooperation agreement with Washington, which agreed to remove its troops last week and said it would send a delegation to Niamey within days.

"We can confirm the beginning of discussions between the US and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of US forces from the country," Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder told journalists.

The Defense Department "is providing a small delegation from the Pentagon and US Africa Command to participate in the discussions," Ryder said.

Niger's Foreign Minister Bakary Yaou Sangare also confirmed that talks on the issue had begun, saying in a statement that he held discussions Monday with US Ambassador Kathleen FitzGibbon on the departure of American troops.

Maria Barron, USAID's mission director in Niger, also attended the meeting and said the agency would continue its cooperation with Niger, according to the statement.

Ryder said there have not yet been any changes to troop levels in Niger, a linchpin in the US and French strategy to combat jihadists in West Africa and the location of a $100 million American drone base.

The United States will "continue to explore options on how we can ensure that we're able to continue to address potential terrorist threats" in the wake of the withdrawal," he said.

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