French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday that France will withdraw its soldiers and diplomatic staff from Niger, the sub-Saharan African country where the army seized power in a coup in early August. Macron said that military cooperation with Niger “is over” and that French soldiers (around 1,500) will leave the country “in the next few months”, probably by the end of the year: the withdrawal of French soldiers was an explicit request of the new government, installed and supported by the army.
The 1,500 French soldiers in Niger were mainly engaged in operations to counter Islamic extremism spread throughout the Sahel region (some of these groups are affiliated with the Islamic State or al Qaeda). Before the coup, Niger remained one of the few countries still governed by a president close to Western governments, but the coup was immediately characterized by strong anti-French sentiments. In the days that immediately followed, several images circulated of supporters of the junta waving placards or chanting slogans against France. Many of them praised Russia, waving Russian flags or signs reading “Down with France, long live Putin”.
Macron added that the French ambassador and a number of other members of the French diplomatic staff currently present in the country will leave Niger in the next few hours. The withdrawal of French diplomatic staff was also a request of the new Niger government, which Macron had so far refused to accept. At the end of August the junta had given the French ambassador Sylvain Itte 48 hours to leave: when the deadline expired without France recalling him, the junta revoked his diplomatic immunity.
Tensions between the two countries had continued to escalate in recent weeks. Macron announced the withdrawal of soldiers and diplomatic personnel in an interview on France-2, a French public television channel. He said that the withdrawal of the soldiers will take place “peacefully” and in coordination with the military junta ruling Niger. Macron also said he had informed the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, who had been democratically elected, of his decision: he said he considered him “a hostage” and “the only legitimate authority” in Niger.