The last French soldiers in Niger have left the projected airbase in Niamey on the morning of Friday, December 22. This departure was confirmed on September 24 by President Emmanuel Macron following the coup on July 26.
It took three months for the French army to evacuate 1,500 soldiers and fighter planes that were present in Niger.
The final 50 French soldiers still at the projected airbase in Niamey boarded an Air Force A400M this Friday morning, bound for France. General Eric Ozanne, commander of French forces in the Sahel, was present on the tarmac for the handover to Nigerien authorities. He addressed only the French soldiers before taking off again for Chad, where his headquarters is located.
Emmanuel Macron decided on the withdrawal from Niger last September… Three months to leave Niger, “It seems to have been a long, smooth process; we still started from a very complex situation,” said General Ozanne to RFI earlier this week, adding, “I took command on the day of the coup. For French soldiers in Niger, it was initially two months of being at a standstill, weapons at the ready, but we never reached a confrontation. We left Niger with our heads held high.”
Not a minor undertaking
“A solid legal framework was needed to withdraw cleanly, in good order, and safely,” General Ozanne emphasized. The first two areas to be returned were Ouallam and Tabarey-Barey, north of Niger, where a tactical subgroup was stationed with the Nigerien army to protect the Liptako border against incursions by armed terrorist groups. “The situation from July 28 onwards was unprecedented, extraordinary, in the literal sense of the term,” noted Eric Ozanne, head of French forces in the Sahel. “We were at the ready on our positions, relatively intertwined with the Nigerien troops with whom, the day before, we were heading into combat against jihadists.”
Then, in November, the aerial assets, three Mirage 2000s, and six Reaper drones left the projected airbase in Niamey. “We did not face any incidents during these three months of disengagement,” pointed out Eric Ozanne. “We can only be pleased with this maneuver. It went very well, and it wasn’t a given.”