In the wake of July’s military coup in Niger, France has completed the withdrawal of troops from a northern base in the country, as part of a planned departure from the West African country.
A junta spokesman, Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, said on Sunday that more than 200 troops, 28 trucks and two dozen armored vehicles left the Ouallam military base, which has been handed to Niger.
“France’s withdrawal is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Some 1,500 French troops have been operating in Niger, training its military and conducting joint operations”.
Last week, people close to Bazoum were unable to reach him for several days and the junta accused him of trying to escape with his family, sparking concern as to his whereabouts. On Monday, a lawyer for Bazoum told The Associated Press he was able to make one phone call on the weekend to say he was OK, but that they no longer had regular contact with him.
“He’s at home, his doctor has been able to visit him and he’s safe and sound. But we no longer have direct contact with him as their phones have been taken,” said Reed Brody, an American lawyer on Bazoum’s team.
The junta accused Bazoum of trying to flee with a getaway car and the help of two helicopters belonging to a “foreign power.” Those claims could not be confirmed.
Niger had been seen as the last country in the Sahel, the vast expanse below the Sahara Desert, that Western nations could partner with to beat back a growing jihadi insurgency linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
Analysts warn that France’s withdrawal will leave a security vacuum that extremists could exploit.