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Senior Defense Official and Senior Military Official Hold a Background Briefing on Niger

LIEUTENANT COLONEL BRYON MCGARRY: Good afternoon, everybody. I appreciate you taking the time on a Sunday afternoon. This is Lieutenant Colonel Bryon McGarry with DoD Press Operations. I'll be facilitating today's on-background call.

Now, for information purposes only and not for reporting, we're joined today by (inaudible), and (inaudible). For reporting, please refer to them as a senior defense official and a senior military official, respectively.

We've got quite a crowd, so to allow as many of you as possible time to ask a question, I'd ask that you keep your follow ups to a minimum and please keep your microphones on mute unless you're asking a question. And with that, I'll turn it over to (inaudible) to start us off. Over to you, sir. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, thanks, everyone. So, as already talked to, (inaudible) and I are happy to go into background here and answer your questions. We'll just make a couple of remarks off the top. First off would call your attention to the, as the Nigeriens have called it, the Joint Communique. But it's a joint press statement that went out earlier today here. We're in Niamey, so apologies if I mess up the time of day.

That was done jointly by both the Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense in Niger. And it culminates what has been about five days of discussions with the government here to come up with terms for a safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Niger. The date that we had agreed on, have agreed on is no later than September 15, and that will cover all U.S. forces departing Niger.

The Nigeriens committed to a number of things, including the ongoing protection of U.S. forces, the agreement to facilitate, including diplomatic clearances and facilitating with force protection, and a whole series of other efforts on their part to help us move safely and rapidly in the withdrawal. I think overall, the conversation was principally military to military.

The main interlocutor for me as the lead of the delegation was the Minister of Defense, General Modi. But we spent a lot of time working with the chief of staff of the army on the Nigerien side, who was the day-to-day lead for the discussions. I think as undoubtedly people have questions, the state of the relations with Niger after the coup, the relationship between the Nigerien military and the Department of Defense, I think, remains strong.

We have a lengthy history with them going back, well over a decade, and working with them over the course of these discussions proved out that that relationship's very strong. Obviously, we're working against the backdrop of much more challenging political situation, but we're in close contact throughout with the country team here and the ambassador.

And the expectation, as I think has been talked about even publicly, is that following the discussion here and the agreement to terms on the safe and orderly withdrawal and the start of that withdrawal, at some point in upcoming weeks or

months not yet determined, we expect the Deputy Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, will visit here to talk more about the broader bilateral relationship.

But we really viewed it as a prerequisite to get this withdrawal going because the Nigeriens, at the level of their prime minister, had asked us to leave, and we committed to do so. And we really spend most of our time focused on the aspects of assurances that could lead then to the implementation of that withdrawal.

So, a lot of technical discussions, some of which we'll be able to cover if folks have questions. And I think I'll turn it over to (inaudible) for any opening remarks he has before we take your questions.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I'll just say that the discussions that we had with the army interlocutors was very cordial. It was good back and forth and discussion. And that I would say that relationships matter. And that was enabled, as (inaudible) mentioned, through over a decade long partnership and relationship that allowed these discussions to go smoothly. And which I think will help us immensely, as for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Niger.

I think another point is the military representatives, especially, were keen to keep opportunities open for future engagements. And we're looking forward to future dialogues. They were — they thought it was important to emphasize that they did not see this as the closing of the relationship, but that a new relationship needed to be negotiated based on what the CNSP desires were.

I think key, too, is we, as (inaudible) mentioned, dealt with the military leadership and it was through them that then they went to the CNSP leadership for final adjudication or discussion. So, we did not deal with the CNSP directly. But I think that actually played to our advantage in that we had that solid relationship with the Nigerien military folks. That's all I have.

LT. COL. MCGARRY: Okay. Thank you very much, gentlemen. Appreciate that. And we'll go out to questions. First up, we've got Tara Copp with AP.

Q: Hi. Thank you both for doing this. Can you talk a little bit about the buildings and the equipment and things that U.S. troops have been using for years? What are you leaving behind? Are you making plans to take all of that equipment with you? And then secondly, just thinking forward, how are you going to fill this hole in terms of doing the counterterrorism mission? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, Tara. So, I think it's really too early to tell exactly what we will be taking out. Obviously, the goal is to take as much as we can, protect the investment of the U.S. taxpayers. But there's significant infrastructure, including the air base at Agadez, the air base, or our part of it at Niamey, that we're not obviously going to be able to take with us.

We are committed to a longer-term relationship with Niger. And so, while this is certainly going to result — our departure is certainly going to result in a reset of that. It's not in our interest to necessarily deny them the use of the equipment that we will, by legal standards, abandon. Not everything will come out.

But we just had a conversation earlier today with AFRICOM and others as we go through the details of what's going to be removed, obviously, sensitive equipment, lethal equipment, hazardous equipment, these kind of things will be removed. A lot of what we expect will be left behind is either things that are

immobile or are going to cost a lot more for the United States to take out than they're actually worth. So, we have some experience with this in recent years out of other places, and I think that will very much inform the conversation.

Anything to add on that?

(UNKNOWN): (inaudible)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You obviously hit on the kind of 800-pound gorilla question, which is what comes next, especially from a strategic perspective across this region where Niger has been really an anchor for our counterterrorism efforts over a decade, decade and a half. Those conversations are ongoing.

I think one of the things that we were very focused on is ensuring that this withdrawal goes in as collegial and collaborative a manner as possible at the military to military level, because we know we're going to need the fan and other components of the security services here, regardless of what our posture is. Because this is a region where there's quite a lot of terrorist activity.

We can list off a lot of different groups, but fundamentally they cross over in Niger. So, whether we are operating from Niger in the future or from some other place near here, we'll have a continued mission to monitor for external operations, and as much as possible, support partners that are willing to work with us to have the capability to disrupt that.

Q: (inaudible)


LT. COL. MCGARRY: Okay, thanks very much, sir. Next question for Idrees Ali, please. Thank you.

Q: Two quick questions. Firstly, what's the status of the Russians in Niger? They're obviously in 101. What's the status in 201? How many are there, and do you expect them to take over the CT and the training missions?

And then secondly, you give an — sounds like an optimistic view of how you see a long-term relationship. But the CNSP, which is in power and does not appear to be going anywhere, asked you to leave despite the hundreds of millions that you spent. So, how do you see a long-term relationship with a country that asks you to leave and does not seem to be budging on that, in terms of leaving government or their decision?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The first question, the truthful answer is, I don't know. We hear reports of Russians, maybe in the capital in Niamey. Can't tell you anything specifically about their location around AB 101, don't have anything on Agadez either.

I don't anticipate, this is kind of my personal view, but informed by our conversations this week with the Nigeriens, I don't — I think that this is a situation like we've seen in other countries in which the counterterrorism responsibilities will be turned over to a Wagner or a Russian-type entity.

First off, I think the Nigerien military is too capable for that. And second of all, I think we tend to believe what they've told us, at least the CNSP, which is they're not looking for any foreign forces in large numbers here, and they're

looking to not have to make decisions on who they work with. So, I think that's kind of short answer to that.

As to your second question of being optimistic, I'll tell you I'm probably circumspect on this. A lot's going to tell in the next couple months as we conduct our withdrawal. And I think they, on the Nigerien side, start to see what capabilities they themselves need and what is no longer available. With both the French withdrawal, as you know, and then the American withdrawal, I think time will tell, unfortunately. I think at the political level, that's beyond my responsibility, our responsibility.

I can tell you from the mil-mil perspective, I think they are continuing to be committed to looking at disrupting terrorist threats as they have been. And some of the sense we continue to get is even though we're not as closely partnered with them, their forces are still going out and disrupting some of these threats.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, I think also on this interest is, while we have not been engaged with them as much over the last several months, the special operations forces that are still in country and have some engagement with them, mostly telephonically, have stated that they are still doing operations.

So, the special operations forces that we have trained here are continuing to engage in counterterrorism missions very similar to what we would have advised them on, obviously, without that advice here recently. So, I think there is some effort from Niger to continue, I will say, in West Africa. These are some of the most capable CT forces in this part of the world.

Also, I think, as you talked about the relationship going forward, I think instructive that in the opening comments, that Minister of Defense Modi used the example of post-World War II France and U.S., where the French asked us to remove our bases from France and we were still able to maintain a relationship and still work together.

They are also, at least from what was relayed to us, very protective of their ability to talk to other nations. I would say for me that having worked here in the past in the region, many of these nations, there's a sense of desperation, and they don't want options foreclosed.

So, that is part of it. I think the other part is that we have had this longstanding relationship, and they don't want to have it completely dissolved. But that was also coming from the military piece. I can't speak for the CNSP because we did not engage with them directly. And obviously, that's where many of these decisions would be made.

LT. COL. MCGARRY: Okay, thank you very much, gentlemen. Our next question goes to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q: Thank you. Where are the troops and the equipment leaving going to? Is there another country in the region or that some of them will be rebased to? On the equipment that, and things that you mentioned might be left behind, did you get any assurances from the Nigerien military that they would not, that U.S. provided equipment would not be used by others like the Russians?

And then, on the comment that you'll continue to monitor for external operations, I wonder, does that mean that the U.S. will continue to share terror

information with the Nigerien military going forward to help them disrupt potential terror plots? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Hey, Courtney. So, I think to take those questions in order here, and I've already forgotten your first one.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, yes. Where are the forces —

Q: Where are — where are the troops going?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. Yes, so I think it's not yet determined. Some of these will revert back to AFRICOM, and so, they're best positioned to talk to that, but undoubtedly will be used in other places where some of this equipment is useful on the continent. I think we are engaged in discussions at various different levels with other countries about retaining some capability and proximity to Niger, but nothing that is at this point definite or certainly that I'm not in a position to speak to on this call.

But the expectation is that much of this equipment will return to our stocks, if need be. So, I think not yet known. As we look at assurances, they — we had a conversation with them. They committed that they would be keeping these for themselves on the Nigerien military side. So, they're particularly focused, the CNSP is on sovereignty and protecting aspects of their own military and ability to operate.

And we got the strong sense in the conversations that they do not intend to share what equipment left behind with any other party that might be here in the future here, at least for the time being. Again, back to the earlier question, a lot of what we anticipate leaving here is not going to be terribly mobile. It'll be housing units, it'll be other kind of life support.

So, not probably things that are going to move around a lot at this stage, although that's still to be determined as we ultimately draw down. And then, I think to your question of continuing to share intelligence, we maintain relationships at all levels across the Nigerien government. Just because of their coup doesn't mean that there isn't still military to military, intelligence to intelligence relationships.

And certainly, while our forces are here, we have interest in our own force protection and making sure that the Nigeriens are as capable as possible in protecting, not only our forces, but other areas where we might have Americans or others. So, I think for the time being, we're continuing to do what we're doing.

As to the longer-term relationship, it fits into the broader question about how we're going to re-posture and look for a different approach to conducting counterterrorism, especially looking at the indications of warning side of that across this region.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I think also on the — there's definitely an interest right now in the military to not upset things. So, I don't think in the short term we'll see them, you know, turn this equipment over to others. They want to use it in their CT fight today. Obviously, that can change over time. We don't know where that will go.

But I will say also of note is the CNSP is not a monolithic entity. It's a council. And that council means there's debate that's occurring, and so there's opportunity for us to still engage and have some influence within that effort. So, I wouldn't, while this is not a great place to be right now, I wouldn't say that it's final yet.

LT. COL. MCGARRY: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Next question goes to Liz Friedman with Fox.

Q: Hey, thanks. When will the withdrawal start? Will it be weeks? Will it be days? And then when will the weapons start to be moved from Niger as well?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, we agreed in our public communique to say it had already started because it has. So, we've had aircraft already come in and move things out. We've also consolidated things even when aircraft weren't coming in. So, we would look at it as already underway.

As to when weapons will come out, that's going to be a rolling thing that I think the forces on the ground will look at and determine. Idea would be to keep the things that we still need for as long as we need them. And things that we aren't using would move out pretty quickly. So, I would expect that it would be continuous piece of the retrograde, different types of weapons and equipment moving out.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, we've already moved, since we were asked to move, realizing that the mission wouldn't continue. Non-essential personnel to base operations, security, et cetera, have already been moving. So, it's about 100 or so over the last couple of weeks that have been moved out already. And then we get that — (inaudible) covered everything else.

Q: Thanks.

LT. COL. MCGARRY: Thank you, gentlemen. Next question goes to Eric Schmitt with New York Times.

Q: Yes, (inaudible), just a couple questions for you and then one for (inaudible). One, can you give a couple more examples of the immobile or stuff that's going to stay behind because it's too costly to move than it is to take away besides housing units.

For either one of you, you talk about the CNSP and the military as if they're two different things. But this is a military junta, so I don't quite understand the distinction you're making. I know one is the ruling body, but they're military officers, right? That oversee the army officers that maybe you spoke to.

And then finally, (inaudible), you said, we're not in a great place to be, but I wouldn't say it's final yet. What exactly did you mean by that? I mean, it's not final yet. What isn't final? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, Eric. So, I think examples of other things that are probably not going to be coming out of here are, again, a lot of things that are part of life support or infrastructure. So, you can think of generators, air conditioning units, large platforms and other things like that that were really part of construction of air bases. We might envision hangers, things like that that are probably not moving out.

And then other things that we're going to make a determination are too expensive to move out relative to their worth to us. So, as we look at the actual financial piece of things, some things may be worth not terribly much, especially as we think about it going back into stocks, and it's going to cost us a significant amount of airflow. I should make the point that the expectation is the vast majority of the equipment we are moving out is going out by air, not by ground.

So, that adds a significant cost to what we choose to leave. We will also look at it through the lens of what might be something better off for us to leave with the Nigeriens than to take for ourselves. This is part of the calculus as we go through this. To your question on, why we're making a distinction here, because I think to (inaudible)'s point, first case, the CNSP is not a monolith. And there's clear divisions within it.

And I think while all wear military uniforms, the coup was, and the current president is a member of the presidential guard. That's distinct from the FAN, the regular military. And then there are other aspects, like gendarmerie and NORSOF and others.

And the people we were talking to are those in charge of the MoD with Minister Modi and then the army chief, people who continue to serve in military capacities, not, for instance, others that have moved to be the Minister of Interior or the president, in the case of Tiani or others.

So, that's the distinction we're making. Under no means are we sort of downplaying the idea that, when the CNSP gets together, there's a lot of uniforms in that room. This is a military junta at the end. But the interaction we had was with military officers and professional military officers who were serving in roles overseeing the current Ministry of National Defense.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, I think it's important to understand, Eric, that there's the FAN as mentioned, the Nigerien army, those are who we have continued to engage with. And then there is a difference with the presidential guard and who they reported to before as well as the gendarmeries.

And so, we just, all I was trying to indicate is that we were just dealing with that portion of the military, the Nigerien military army. The other piece there, about it not being final yet. What I meant was trying to get to is the CNSP is not finalized how they are going to, what form they will be, how they will rule, et cetera. They're still learning how to operate a government and things that are, I think, beyond what they were used to.

They're still trying to understand what partners they will have going forward in the future. They have not locked anybody out yet. And so, what I was saying is there's an opportunity for us to be able to engage and maybe shift the trajectory slightly, and that may not work out, and it may end up that they decide to go with a different direction, as we've seen in other countries.

But right now, in this, it's still in a bit of a forming stage, extended forming, transition stage, unknown what that will turn into here in the short term. We've seen similar in Mali and other nations where the initial few months are different than the period afterwards.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'll just take one more reattack. The big picture here, the reason we were talking just to the military is the military has been

deemed in the CNSP as responsible for managing the withdrawal. They did it for the French. They're going to do it for us.

So, these conversations were very much scoped to figuring out what the basic agreements that were needed, the terms to conduct that withdrawal, things like protections for forces and other things like that, because the Nigeriens abrogated the SOFA, status of forces agreement, in March, two months ago.

So, we had to get those assurances, and we really wanted to talk to them about the mechanics of doing this. And they have set up a committee that will, on their military side, work with our military to really work through that on a day-to-day basis. So, that's why we're focused on just that piece. We intentionally stayed out of any broader policy discussions. These were mil-mil talks.

So, no economic, no diplomatic, no future of CNSP, none of the things that continue to be particularly challenging with them, but are not principally in the Department of Defense's lane.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, I think on that, too, is they have a vested interest for this to go smoothly. They understand this is what will set conditions for any future relationship. They were also keen to keep this in the military-to-military channels and talk about the withdrawal. So, that helped keep some of the other issues out.

And they understand that any future political or economic or other relations will have to be negotiated at a later date with other folks from the U.S. government, which allowed us to focus solely on this repositioning and getting the assurances that we needed in order to execute.

LT. COL. MCGARRY: Okay, thank you, gentlemen. We've got time for just a couple more. Next question goes to Nancy Youssef with Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thank you. I'm having a hard time understanding what this new trajectory would look like. The Nigeriens have asked the U.S. forces to leave. They said that they've been frustrated by the process. Can you give me some more details on what this potential new trajectory could look like, particularly as they're forming stronger relationships with the Russian military? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, I'll give you, Nancy, got our working assumption here. First things first. We're leaving Niger with U.S. forces, but all the other aspects of the U.S. government generally remain in place. We, unlike the French, we're maintaining an embassy. We'll continue to have relations there.

So, it isn't a break in that sense, but I think what you're asking is more the specifics of what does a future security relationship look like. I think the scheme of maneuver here as laid out to Nigeriens, and we've been pretty open about this publicly, is we're going to be focused for the near term on the drawdown of U.S. forces and expect some way through that process we'll start to have conversations about what comes next.

They are very clear, at least at the seniorest, most military levels, that they want to maintain a relationship with us. And that relationship is certainly informed by where we've been with them. So, we take that to mean that they're going to continue to want to look for opportunities to take advantage of some of our training, other things like that, that they're going to continue to need, I think, in this neighborhood.

I can't speak to the idea that they're establishing some other relationships with other parties, be it the Russians or others. They certainly have relationships with their regional partners and are probably looking to see what the likes of Mali and Burkina are doing with their Russian advisors. So, I suspect that will inform some of where they are.

But my takeaway from this is that some level, kind of as (inaudible) was saying, the CNSP is not quite sure where they want to go, but they know they want foreign forces out and they, probably my opinion, haven't necessarily solved for what the long-term future security requirements are going to be.

So, I think this is why it's so important for us to make sure this withdrawal goes well, maintain these relationships that are very much professional military to professional military because we want to keep our options open. Even as many of you have stated, this is not a good outcome in toto that we're leaving Niger after significant investment and a lot of time invested in the partnership.

LT. COL. MCGARRY: Okay, thanks very much, sir. Last question goes to Nick Slayton with Task & Purpose. Thanks.

Q: Thank you. So, just wanted to get a sense of what the, sort of since the coup, what the impact on U.S. CT operations has been and when you imagine that might return to a pre-coup level for the region. And also, just I know you mentioned 100 personnel had already left. Trying to get a sense of how many remain in country. We've seen the number of 1,000 floated around. Just want to get an accurate, up to date sense of how many are still in country.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, Nick, to the pre- — kind of returning to pre-coup levels and what's been going on. So, the CNSP has not allowed any counterterrorism operations by the U.S. government, meaning no kind of partnered operations and things of that nature. That would have been the case prior to the coup.

That said, we've continued to conduct operations for our own force protection. And that's been something that we've been very open and transparent with the CNSP about. I think as to what is likely to come to the question many have asked, it's probably unclear at this point, but we know what we're going to need to continue to focus on, and that's the partnership with the military.

Even as we draw down, we're going to, I think, continue to be sought by them for some of the advice and assistance, training, education that a number of them who have gone through that will certainly value in. There's a generation of Nigerien military, in some aspects of their military, that have grown up with U.S. training, U.S. equipment, U.S. education.

And that's something that we would expect that they would continue to desire even if their political masters decide to go a different direction. I honestly can't tell you the number of people right now because it's fairly dynamic. I'm sure the J1 at AFRICOM could give a very good number, but we were, you're correct, at about 1,000 people. But we've been trying to pull people out.

So, as (inaudible) already said. So, we're certainly short of 1,000 at this point. And we have plans that will, if all goes well, with the support of the Nigeriens, be done pulling out all our equipment and certainly all our people well before that 15 September deadline they gave us.

So, that's a imprecise answer, intentionally so, because I'm not in a position to give you an exact number. And I think we would want to be somewhat protective of how many people exactly are there right now because of some of sensitivities that you could, of course, understand. Anything to add to that?



LT. COL. MCGARRY: Okay. Thank you, gentlemen, very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's briefing. As a reminder, attribution for today's briefing is to a senior defense official and a senior military official, respectively.

Gentlemen, thank you very much both for your time, and thank you, media colleagues, for joining us. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday. Thank you. Out here.