A page is turning for France with the departure of the first soldiers from Niger in a land convoy under local escort, from the west of the country towards a destination which could be Chad, according to several security sources.
The French withdrawal was demanded by Nigerien generals quickly after they came to power in a coup at the end of July, and French President Emmanuel Macron announced their departure at the end of September.
Around 1,400 French soldiers and airmen have so far been deployed in the country to fight against the jihadists alongside the Nigeriens, including around 1,000 in Niamey and 400 on two forward bases in the west, in Ouallam and Tabarey-Barey, in the heart of the so-called “three borders” area with Mali and Burkina Faso.
A convoy of soldiers from Tabarey-Barey arrived in Niamey on Tuesday noon, with heavy goods vehicles carrying equipment and armored vehicles, noted an AFP journalist.
“The first departures are taking place, in accordance with the planning and ongoing coordination,” AFP learned earlier from the French armies, confirming the announcement made the day before by the Nigerien military regime, which spoke of convoys under escort of its army without specifying their destination.
A plane with French equipment and a first group of priority soldiers (medical evacuations, in particular) also flew from Niamey on Monday, we learned from another military source.
The final destination of the French convoys has not been officially communicated.
According to sources close to the matter, they should then head towards Chad, via more than 1,600 kilometers of roads and tracks to reach N’Djamena, where the command of the French Forces in the Sahel is located.
The military regime announced on Friday that the withdrawal of French soldiers would be done “in complete safety”.
After France’s departure from Mali, then from Burkina Faso from the summer of 2022, Niger had become the key partner of French anti-jihadist operations, in a region where armed groups affiliated with the Islamic State and Al -Qaeda.
This new withdrawal presents the French with a double logistical and security challenge.
Travel options are limited, even dangerous, with the risk of anti-French demonstrations but also the presence of jihadists linked to Boko Haram and the West African subsidiary of IS (Iswap) in the Diffa area (east). of Chad).
Niger’s land borders have also been closed with Benin and Nigeria since the July 26 coup which deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, an ally of France. And the Nigeriens prohibit the overflight of their territory by French, civil and military planes, unless exempted.
However, the borders were reopened with Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad.
If the French containers are transported to Chad, the journey will be long, difficult and dangerous. They will then have to transit through the port of Douala, in Cameroon, at the end of another complicated convoy, according to a source close to the matter.
After concluding a combat partnership with Niger against jihadist groups, France had discreetly expanded the Niamey enclosure, with armored vehicles and helicopters, which came to reinforce the five armed Reaper drones and at least three Mirage fighter planes already on place.
Located within the Nigerien base 101 in the capital, this enclosure accommodates hundreds of prefabs which serve as offices, computer equipment, hangars and modular shelters for aircraft, tents on the life base, pilot cabins for drones, engineering bulldozers or even fire trucks.
So much equipment that the French army has no intention of leaving to the Nigerien army.
In Mali, the disengagement mobilized 400 logisticians sent as reinforcements for the dismantling of Gao, the largest French influence in the country, and 6,000 containers.
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