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Members of Canada’s Special Operations Forces train Nigerian soldiers in a drill during the Flintlock military exercise near Jacqueville, Ivory Coast, on March 3.Cheick Sylla/The Globe and Mail

Six months after a military coup in Niger, the Canadian Armed Forces have withdrawn their last remaining soldiers from the country, but they plan to continue training African troops in the region.

Lieutenant-Commander Christine Hurov, a spokesperson for the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, confirmed the withdrawal in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Monday.

For years, Canada’s military has maintained a close relationship with its counterparts in Niger. CANSOFCOM has often deployed soldiers to mentor the West African country’s troops in training exercises in the region.

But after the military seized power in Niger in a putsch on July 26, Ottawa suspended its bilateral development aid to the impoverished country and began to reconsider its other links.

For months, the federal government officially described the situation in Niger as merely an “attempted coup” – leaving open the possibility that the military takeover might fail and civilians might regain power.

But this did not happen. Niger’s military junta instead continued to imprison President Mohamed Bazoum, while also forging closer links to Moscow, forming an alliance with other West African military regimes, terminating its security pacts with the European Union and ordering France to withdraw its 1,500 troops from the country. Ottawa now openly describes the situation as a coup.

France completed its troop withdrawal by Dec. 22. Around the same time, Canada was quietly deciding to pull out its last military personnel from Niger, Lt.-Cmdr. Hurov said.

“We can confirm that, as of January, 2024, CANSOFCOM no longer has personnel operating in Niger and that personnel have returned to Canada,” her e-mail says.

“These decisions were taken in mid-December, 2023. The Canadian Armed Forces has not conducted any training since the coup d’état. … Bilateral training and capacity-building efforts with the Forces Armées Nigériennes remain suspended.”

Niger coup casts doubt on Canada’s African strategy of spending millions on military training, development

As many as 50 Canadian soldiers have been deployed to Niger annually for the past decade to train the national army in counterterrorism operations, under a program known as Operation Naberius. A small number of them, fewer than 10 soldiers, were stationed in Niger at the time of the putsch, and they remained in the country until the withdrawal that was approved last month, Lt.-Cmdr. Hurov said.

Despite the withdrawal, Canadian troops will continue to participate in partnerships in Africa, including the annual U.S.-sponsored Flintlock training exercise for African troops this year, she said. Canadian special-forces soldiers focused on mentoring Niger’s soldiers in counterterrorism techniques in the exercise last year in Ivory Coast.

This year’s exercise is expected to be held in Ghana and Ivory Coast, possibly in April. Dozens of African countries normally send troops to participate in the exercise, and the Pentagon has said the coming one will be the largest of its kind in history.

Niger was long considered a staunch Western ally in West Africa prior to the coup in July. But even after the French and Canadian troop withdrawal, some Western forces remain in Niger today, including about 1,000 U.S. troops who run a drone base in the northern Niger city of Agadez for counterterrorism operations in the wider region.

Niger’s new regime has established a military alliance with two neighbouring countries, Mali and Burkina Faso, where earlier coups had taken place in recent years. All three have signed military deals with Russia, which has sent about 1,000 mercenaries to Mali.

The West African regional union ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Niger after the coup. It halted trade with the country and threatened to launch a military intervention to restore Mr. Bazoum to power, but the ultimatum has proven empty.

Last week, senior officials from Niger travelled to Moscow and agreed to “intensify” their military co-operation with Russia, according to a Russian government statement.

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