US to 'evaluate' next steps after French announce Niger withdrawal

Protesters hold a sign taken from the French Embassy in Niamey during a demonstration that followed a rally in support of Niger's junta in Niamey on July 30, 2023. PHOTO | COURTESY

Nairobi. Washington will "evaluate" its future steps on the Niger crisis after France announced the withdrawal of its ambassador and troops from the coup-hit nation, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday.

"While we give diplomacy a chance, we will also continue to evaluate any future steps that would prioritise both our diplomatic and security goals," Austin told reporters in Nairobi during a visit to Kenya.

But he stressed that Washington had "not made any significant change to our force postures and... we really want to see a diplomatic solution, a peaceful end" to the crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday announced that France would withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by French troops, two months after a coup in the West African country ousted pro-Paris President Mohamed Bazoum.

"France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France," Macron told French television in an interview.

Macron added that military cooperation was "over" and French troops would withdraw in "the months and weeks to come" with a full pullout "by the end of the year".

France has kept about 1,500 soldiers in Niger as part of an anti-jihadist deployment in the Sahel region. The US has some 1,100 military personnel in the country.

Niger's military rulers responded swiftly to Macron's announcement in a statement read out on national television.

"This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger," said the statement from the military rulers, who described it as "a historic moment".

The July 26 coup against Bazoum was the third such putsch in the region in as many years, following similar actions in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022 that also forced the pullouts of French troops.

But the Niger coup is particularly bruising for Macron after he sought to make a special ally of Niamey, and a hub for France's presence in the region following the Mali coup.