Niger Backs Deployment of More European Special Forces

Lawmakers in Niger have given the green light to a bill that will pave the way for more foreign troops to deploy on its territory to help fight jihadist insurgents.

MPs in Niger have approved legislation that would allow the deployment of more European special forces in the country to help in the fight against jihadist insurgents.

Parliament on Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed bill, with 131 voting yes and 31 voting no.

Niger's prime minister, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, rejected criticism from opponents to the bill and told parliamentarians that the country was "virtually surrounded by armed terrorist groups."

Civil society groups have raised concerns about the presence of foreign troops, saying they threaten national sovereignty.

"Entering into new partnerships in no way calls into question our sovereignty over the national territory," Mahamadou said.

What is happening in Niger?

Niger faces a substantial security challenge with Boko Haram terrorists on its southern flank and Al Qaeda terrorists on its western border with Mali. It has the support of several Western states, among them, France and the US.

In February, President Mohamed Bazoum agreed to host French special forces from neighboring Mali amid soured relations between Paris and Bamako.

Around 2,400 French troops and 900 special forces personnel are due to leave Mali in the coming months.

Earlier this month, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made her first trip to the troubled Sahel region and met with her Nigerien counterpart, Hassoumi Massoudou, to discuss Niger's security concerns.

Part of the discussion centered around whether there was a need for more German troops, something that would require the approval of the Bundestag and also be done in conjunction with EU partners.

Massoudou had indicated that Niger wanted partners to become more involved in training the country's forces and also taking part in "joint missions."

Germany currently runs a logistics outpost in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, and has set up a center near the border with Mali to train Nigerien special forces.

Germany is set to decide in May whether to pull out 1,400 troops deployed in Mali under EU and UN mandates. The EU has already scrapped its military training missions there.

kb/nm (Reuters, AFP)

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