The U.S. will have fully cleared out of one air base in Niger as it continues to move personnel and equipment from the African country ahead of a September deadline to complete its withdrawal, according to the head of U.S. Africa Command.

Niger and the U.S. announced their decision in a joint statement last month and set a deadline of Sept. 15 for the U.S. to move its forces out of the West African country. Ties between the two nations began to deteriorate last summer after a coup staged by a military junta known as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, or CNSP.

By March, a spokesman for the council said U.S. forces would no longer operate in the country.

“We are on pace and on plan, moving heavy equipment out of Air Base 101, and then we will conclude with Air Base 201,” U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Michael Langley told reporters in a June 24 press briefing.

“Within a few weeks, we’ll be done with 101. I’ll put it that way,” he added. “Heavy equipment, rolling stock, is always the biggest thing that we are getting out of there. … We’re right on pace if not ahead of the pace.”

America has relied on Niger as a counterterrorism hub for more than a decade. Until recently, more than 1,000 U.S. personnel have operated there, with most concentrated on an air base located in the center of the country, which cost more than $100 million.

The plan for relocating equipment is not yet finalized, but Langley said he has made tours across coastal West Africa and the rest of the region to best understand what those countries need for addressing the counterterrorism fight they face.

“I look at our overall strategy. We’re doubling down on the strategy of going through our partners, by, with and through, on deterring threats and also crisis response. I don’t measure that in the amount of equipment, relocating equipment; I measure it by capabilities,” he said.

The commander stressed that these countries are not asking for U.S. troops on the ground in “any scope or magnitude. They say it’s their fight. They’re looking for capabilities, whether it be exquisite capabilities of intel sharing [or] being able to achieve the capability to identify indications and warnings for themselves.”

Acknowledging the presence of Russian advisers and trainers in Niger at Air Base 101 where Americans are still withdrawing, Langley said: “What intentions they have beyond that, I don’t know. ... But right now I know that we’re doing a responsible and graduated withdrawal.”

Russian military presence exists as far north as Libya and as far south as the Central African Republic, according to Langley. Russian activity is likely to be a topic that comes up during the African Chiefs of Defense Conference, an annual forum set to kick off for the first time on the African continent in Botswana on June 25.

The Russian military in Africa is attempting, through active disinformation campaigns, to drive a wedge between the West and its African partners, according to Langley.

“Do [the Russians] really want to have helped these African countries to beat terrorism or try to build their governance into being more responsive to their public or civil society? I’m not seeing that. I’m seeing they’re trying to put a narrative out there that will sow a discord between our African partners and the West writ large,” he added.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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