Status: 25/09/2023, 17:24 p.m.
French President Emmanuel Macron wants to withdraw French forces from Niger. © François Walschaerts/AP/dpa
Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger: French soldiers are once again leaving a Sahel state after coup plotters broke off cooperation. The withdrawal will have consequences - perhaps also for the Bundeswehr.
Two months after the military coup in Niger, the former colonial power France is forced to withdraw its troops from the West African country. As a result, their influence in the region continues to dwindle. By the end of the year, the approximately 1500 French soldiers are to return home from the country, as French President Emmanuel Macron announced yesterday evening. The Bundeswehr also has soldiers in Niger. What the withdrawal of French troops means for them is still unclear.
"We are now waiting for further developments," said Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) today. The air transport base in Niamey, with its 100 German soldiers, is important for the withdrawal from neighboring Mali, he said. "We are watching. We stay on the ball. We have safety in mind. We don't see any need for action now, today." The U.S. government has not yet made a decision on how it will behave with regard to its troops stationed in Niger.
Last ally in the region
At the end of July, the military led by the new ruler General Abdourahamane Tiani deposed President Mohamed Bazoum in Niger. The ex-colonial power France, the EU, the USA, the African Union and neighbouring states, among others, are calling for a return to constitutional order. The country, which has a population of around 26 million, was the last democratic ally of the United States, France and other European countries in the fight against terrorism in the region, where jihadists are spreading more and more. For France, the country's large uranium deposits also played an important role. Niger is also a central migration route via Libya to Europe.
The withdrawal may have been the only way out of the impasse for France as a result of the coup d'état in Niger. Military cooperation came to a standstill, and the putschists then unilaterally terminated it and also demanded the withdrawal of the French ambassador. Although France did not tire of declaring that Bazoum was still the legitimate ruler and that it did not recognize the demands of the coup plotters, it nevertheless found itself in a deadlock. "We are not there to be hostages of the coup plotters in some way," Macron said.
Years of spiral of violence
The situation is not new for the French. They had already been forced out of the countries after military coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. The withdrawal from Niger means a further loss of influence for France - even though the former colonial power tried to respond more closely to local needs in Niger after the bitter experience in Mali.
In fact, the security situation in Niger was the only one of the three countries to have improved somewhat. In Mali, on the other hand, Islamist terror has only worsened since the deployment of Russian mercenaries. But a spiral of violence that has lasted for years has caused great mistrust among the populations of the states. The economic dependence on the ex-colonial power is also causing frustration. In addition, there is propaganda from Moscow, which reinforces anti-French sentiment out of self-interest. Russian flags can also be seen at demonstrations in the Nigerien capital Niamey against the presence of the French.
"Neo-colonialist forces no longer welcome"
"It is positive that Macron understood that the withdrawal of French troops was inevitable," said the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's regional office head for the Sahel, Ulf Laessing. "The coup plotters had drawn their legitimacy from a campaign against the French troops and the ambassador from Paris. That is no longer the case." The junta in Niamey celebrated the announcement as a "new step towards Niger's sovereignty". "Imperialist and neo-colonialist forces are no longer welcome on our national territory," it said yesterday.
At the same time, however, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups in the region is likely to become more difficult, Laessing said. "The Germans and other EU countries only helped with equipment and training. Despite all the criticism of France, it has to be said that only Paris was ready to actively fight." At the beginning of the year, the EU launched a new military partnership mission in Niger. The Bundeswehr was previously involved in the training of Nigerien special forces. It also operates an air transport base in Niamey, which is the hub for the withdrawal of more than 850 troops after the end of the UN peacekeeping mission in neighbouring Mali.
France's key partner in Chad
There is now speculation as to whether some of the French soldiers could be transferred from Niger to neighbouring Chad. The French General Staff said that no details of the withdrawal could be given at the moment. So far, around 1000 French soldiers are stationed in Chad. It is true that Chad is also led by a military government that has postponed elections and bloodily suppressed protests. A large part of the population also does not speak well of France. However, interim President General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno is - like his father before him - an important partner of France.
French soldiers in Niamey. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced the end of military cooperation with Niger. © Jerome Delay/AP
In West Africa, France will continue to have troops in Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire. In addition, there are French soldiers in Gabon, Central Africa, where a military coup toppled the ruling family that has ruled for decades in August, and in Djibouti, East Africa. In total, there are more than 3000,<> troops in the four countries who can support missions if necessary. Paris also participates in international missions. Dpa