France to pull troops out of Niger following coup, says Macron

PARIS (Reuters): France is to end its military cooperation with Niger and withdraw its 1,500 troops tasked with battling Islamist rebels in the Sahel region following a July coup in the West African country, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday.

Macron said the troops would pull out by the end of the year, a move that deals a hammer blow to France’s counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel and France’s influence in the region.

Nonetheless, Macron said France, the former colonial power in Niger, would “not be held hostage by the putchists” who he has refused to recognise as the legitimate authority in the country.

“We will consult with the putschists because we want things to happen calmly,” Macron said in an interview with France’s TF1 and France 2 television stations.

France’s ambassador was also being pulled out and would arrive back in the country in the next few hours, Macron added.

French influence over its former colonies has waned in West Africa in recent years, just as popular vitriol has grown. Its forces have been kicked out of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso since coups in those countries, reducing its role in a region-wide fight against deadly Islamist insurgencies.

Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the United States, which have used it as a base to fight an Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa’s wider Sahel region.

France’s military base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, had become the epicentre of anti-French protests since the July 26 coup.

Groups have regularly gathered on the street outside to call for the exit of troops stationed in the capital. On one Saturday this month, tens of thousands rallied against France, slitting the throat of a goat dressed in French colours and carrying coffins draped in French flags.

At the same event, some people carried pro-Russian signs.

Macron said he still regarded democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum, currently held prisoner by the coup leaders, as the country’s legitimate leader and had informed him of his decision.