Following a two-month standoff with the Nigerien military regime, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday the return of the French Ambassador to Niamey and the withdrawal of French troops from Niger “by the end of the year.” Let’s delve into the logistics of repatriating the 1,500 French soldiers currently stationed in Niger.
A meticulous plan will be the key to executing a withdrawal from Niger in just three months. French military officials emphasize that contacts have already been established with their Nigerien counterparts in recent weeks to prepare for this withdrawal. The 200 soldiers stationed in Ouallam, in Niger’s Liptako region, will initially move to the projected airbase in Niamey, the focal point of the French presence. Utilizing airlifts, it will then be relatively straightforward to repatriate the troops to France.
However, to disengage heavy equipment such as combat vehicles, mobile air terminals, helicopters, and stocks, the logistics experts of the French army will need to organize substantial ground convoys to reach the ports of Cotonou or Abidjan. From there, they will be transported to France by sea, as there are no plans to redeploy the equipment to other French military bases in Africa.
The engineering units are now experienced in these large-scale relocations. In 2022, the Barkhane force – consisting of 4,500 personnel – successfully departed Mali within six months. It was a significant logistical challenge that will need to be repeated, albeit with a smaller military footprint and shorter distances this time.
Chad: The Last French Military Anchor in the Sahel
By the summer of 2022, the departure of the Barkhane force from Mali had nearly concluded the French military presence in the Sahel, as all 4,500 soldiers engaged there had returned to France. In Niger, the number of French troops never exceeded 1,500, primarily stationed at Niamey’s Air Base 101. This detachment mainly consisted of aviators and technicians serving three Mirage 2000 aircraft and six Reaper drones.
Nevertheless, France remained the only country offering the Nigerien authorities a combat partnership: French military personnel served alongside the Nigerien armed forces, who independently planned operations. Thus, on the ground, 200 French soldiers rotated every four months in Ouallam, Liptako, to secure the border with Mali alongside Nigerien forces.
In contrast, the French, Italian, German, and American troops stationed in Niger have primarily focused on training. The American military also operates drones from the Agadez base but for their purposes.
With the departure from Niamey now confirmed, Chad remains the last anchor for French military forces in the Sahel. With 1,000 troops, an airbase, and a headquarters in Ndjamena, their operational scope now primarily focuses on the eastern Sahel region.