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No final decision on withdrawing US troops from Niger and Chad

BOSTON — There has been no final decision on whether or not all U.S. troops will leave Niger and Chad, two African countries that are integral to the military’s efforts to counter violent extremist organizations across the Sahel region, a top U.S. military official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Niger’s ruling junta ended an agreement last month that allows U.S. troops to operate in the West African country.

The government of neighboring Chad in recent days also has questioned its agreement with the U.S., Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. Christopher Grady, the nation’s second-highest-ranking military officer, said in an interview.

The agreements allow the U.S. to conduct critical counterterrorism operations within the countries’ borders and have supported military partner training in both nations. The reversals have prompted concern that U.S. influence in Africa is losing ground to overtures from Russia and China.

“We are all trying to establish ourselves as the partner of choice,” Grady said. “It’s up to us to establish why we think our partnership with them is important. We certainly want to be there. We want to help them, we want to empower them, we want to do things by, with and through (them).”

While U.S. officials said Saturday that the military would begin plans to withdraw troops from Niger, they said discussions on a new military agreement were ongoing.

“There’s still negotiations underway,” Grady said. “I don’t believe there is a final decision on disposition of U.S. forces there.”

Relations have frayed between Niger and Western countries since mutinous soldiers ousted the country’s democratically elected president in July. Niger’s junta has since told French forces to leave and turned instead to Russia for security. Earlier this month, Russian military trainers arrived to reinforce the country’s air defenses and with Russian equipment to train Nigeriens to use.

The government of Chad also recently requested that U.S. forces leave, and officials from the State Department, U.S. Africa Command and the Pentagon will work with Chad’s government to make the case for U.S. forces to stay, Grady said.

“The team has got get on the ground there and work it through,” Grady said.

He said that if both countries ultimately decide the U.S. cannot remain there, the military will have to look for alternatives to run counterterrorism missions across the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara Desert.

“If we are asked to leave, and after negotiations that’s the way it plays out, then we are going to have to recalculate and figure out a new way to do it,” Grady said.

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