Russia sends troops to Niger air base occupied by US troops

Russian troops have been deployed to an air base in Niger where American soldiers are located, American officials said yesterday.

The move came after Niger’s military rulers ordered the United States to withdraw troops that had been countering Islamic insurgents in the region.

Russian forces were present at the base in Niamey, Niger’s capital, but did not mix with American troops, American officials told the Reuters news agency.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Russians posed no “risk” to US forces.

“The Russians are in a separate compound and do not have access to US forces or our equipment,” Austin told reporters in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“I’m always focused on the safety and security of our troops… But right now, I don’t see a major problem here in terms of protecting our forces,” the defense secretary added.

Niger is located in the African Sahel region, considered the new global epicenter of the Islamic State group.

The United States has relied on the country as its main base to monitor regional jihadist activity, but its relations with the country’s ruling military regime have deteriorated since it condemned last year’s coup.

In turn, Niger has turned to Russia for help fighting Islamist insurgents in the south of the country.

The Russians deployed at Air Base 101 at Niger International Airport in Niamey are said to be military trainers. They are said to occupy a wing near a contingent of American troops.

According to Reuters, officials in Niger told the United States earlier this year that around 60 Russian troops would be deployed to the country. It’s unclear how accurate that figure is today. It is also unclear how many US troops remain at Air Base 101.

Most U.S. troops in Niger are said to be at a drone base in the central city of Agadez, about 750 kilometers (460 miles) northeast of Niamey. (BBC)