Withdrawal from the Sahel: Bundeswehr will leave West Africa

Withdrawal from the Sahel: Bundeswehr will leave West Africa
Withdrawal from the Sahel: Bundeswehr will leave West Africa

The German army wanted to maintain its last base in West Africa and went a long way to meet the coup plotters’ demands, but no agreement was reached. Now the plan has been abandoned.

After failed negotiations with the military government in Niger, the German army will give up its last base in West Africa. The air transport base in Niger’s capital Niamey will be closed by August 31 and the soldiers will be relocated back to Germany, the Ministry of Defense informed the Bundestag’s representatives. The base was previously operated by around 100 men and women of the German army. In light of the developments in the situation in recent weeks, the German government has “reassessed” the planned cooperation with Niger. The letter was made available to the German Press Agency.

The base was the logistical hub of the UN mission Minusma to stabilize neighboring Mali, which was ended at the end of last year at the request of the military government there. After a temporary agreement in May, the long-term agreement failed due to different ideas about future cooperation.

Ministry saw no chance of an agreement

“The draft agreement submitted by Niger cannot serve as a basis for negotiations on a status agreement – neither in terms of its character nor its content,” the ministry wrote. “It does not grant immunities for German soldiers. At the same time, we do not have the time to negotiate a new status agreement – the positions are too far apart for that.” According to a report in “Spiegel”, Niamey had demanded, among other things, the training of Nigerien soldiers by the Bundeswehr and arms deliveries.

After coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger was considered Europe and the USA’s last partner in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region, until the military seized power there too last July. The elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, is still under house arrest and is to be charged with treason. Islamist terrorist militias close to Al-Qaeda and IS have been spreading in the region for around a decade. According to the conflict data organization Acled, at least around 14,000 people were killed in the three countries in 2023, at least a third of them civilians.

The German government has repeatedly stressed that, despite all the difficulties, it wants to remain in contact with the governments in the region – including with the military juntas, which have repeatedly postponed announced elections. In December, Federal Minister of Defense Boris Pistorius was the first German minister and highest-ranking representative of an EU country to fly to Niger to talk to the military rulers and offered to continue projects. Development Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) also tried to extend a hand to the military junta in neighboring Burkina Faso.

“Europe hardly plays a role in the Sahel anymore”

The Bundeswehr base in Niamey should continue to serve as a hub for material and personnel, opening up options for action in the strategically important region – for example in the case of evacuation missions and emergencies – and also showing Germany’s military presence. However, like its neighbors, Niger is turning to Russia and has also been hosting Russian military personnel – according to official information, instructors – at a base in Niamey for several months. Almost all other former partners, however, have been expelled.

This weekend, the USA will also be leaving its base in Niamey, before having to vacate its drone base in the desert city of Agadez, which is strategically important for monitoring the entire region, in the coming weeks. All US troops are to have left the country by September 15. Niamey terminated its cooperation because they had accused Washington of arrogance towards them. French anti-terror troops had to withdraw last year, as they did from Mali and Burkina Faso, in the serious dispute between Paris and the military.

“It is a shame that Germany could not reach an agreement with Niger,” Ulf Laessing, Sahel expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bamako, told the dpa. “The base was the last hope that Germany would still have some influence in a country through which the main migration route from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya runs. Today’s summit of the Russian-allied countries of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso shows that Europe hardly plays a role in the Sahel anymore.” The three junta leaders met in Niamey on Saturday for the first official summit of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), a defense alliance they founded last autumn.

The Ministry of Defense stressed that military cooperation with Niger would no longer be pursued, but that political and development relations would remain unaffected. Bilateral programs in “non-lethal areas” would also be continued and wounded Nigerien soldiers, for example, would be treated in Bundeswehr hospitals.

Source: Stern

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