US official says Russian and US troops do not mingle at Airbase 101 as Moscow’s forces have deployed to a separate hanger.

Russian military personnel have entered an airbase in Niger that is hosting US troops, a senior US defence official told the Reuters news agency, following a decision by Niger’s military rulers to expel US forces from the country.

The military officers currently ruling Niger told Washington in March to withdraw the nearly 1,000 US military personnel stationed in their country.

Prior to a military coup in July last year, Niger had been a key partner in the US’s fight against the ISIL (ISIS) group and al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel region of Africa, which is currently experiencing a surge in deadly violence.

A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russian troops were not mingling with US forces at the airbase as they were using a separate aircraft hanger at the site known as Airbase 101, located next to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niger’s capital Niamey.

However, Russia’s deployment of military personnel to the base puts US and Moscow forces in close proximity at a time when relations between both countries are increasingly tense amid Washington’s support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion of its neighbour.

The move by Russia also raises questions about the fate of US military installations in Niger following the completion of the US withdrawal.

“[The situation] is not great but, in the short-term, manageable,” the US official told Reuters.

The Nigerien and Russian embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reports.

The US and its allies have been forced to move troops out of a number of African countries following coups that brought to power military leaders eager to distance themselves from Western governments.

In addition to the impending departure from Niger, US forces have also left Chad in recent days, while the French military has been kicked out of Mali and Burkina Faso. At the same time, Russia is seeking to strengthen relations with African nations, pitching Moscow as a friendly country with no colonial baggage in the continent.

Mali, for example, has in recent years become one of Russia’s closest African allies, with the Wagner Group mercenary force deploying there to fight rebel groups.

The US official said Nigerien authorities had told US President Joe Biden’s administration that about 60 Russian military personnel would be in Niger, but the official could not verify that was the exact number now in the country.

After the coup last year, the US military moved some of its forces in Niger from Airbase 101 to Airbase 201 in the city of Agadez. It was not immediately clear what US military equipment remained at Airbase 101.

Washington built Airbase 201 in central Niger at a cost of more than $100m. Since 2018, it has been used to target ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, known as JNIM, with armed drones.

Niger’s call for the removal of US troops came after a meeting in Niamey in mid-March, when senior US officials raised concerns including the expected arrival of Russian forces and reports of Iran seeking raw materials in the country, including uranium.

While the US message to Nigerien officials was not an ultimatum, the official said, it was made clear that US forces could not be on a base with Russian forces.

“They did not take that well,” the official said.

A two-star US general has been sent to Niger to try and arrange a professional and responsible withdrawal.

While no decisions have been taken on the future of US troops in Niger, the official said the plan was for them to return to US Africa Command’s home bases, located in Germany.

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