The German “cold base” in Niger

The Bundeswehr can maintain its military presence in Niger for the present. Berlin hopes for a permanent deal with the ruling junta on operations in the Sahel – not least to counter Russia in a geostrategic struggle with Moscow.

BERLIN/ROME/NIAMEY (own report) - The German armed forces are now, for the time being at least, able to maintain a military presence in Niger. Berlin now hopes for a more permanent agreement on the stationing of its forces at the airport outside the capital Niamey. The provisional arrangement has resulted from secret negotiations conducted by Germany’s Defence Ministry over recent months. Going forward, the aim is to operate a “manned cold base”, a kind of small-scale facility run by a low double-digit number of soldiers that will have periods of inactivity but can be used when necessary for military operations, such as evacuations on the African continent. The primary interest for Berlin, however, is that such a base would, to some extent, offer a counterweight to Moscow in Niger. Russia has been deploying military personnel to Niger and the region, gradually establishing itself as the leading military cooperation partner for states in the central Sahel and beyond. France and the United States have had to withdraw their troops from the region or been told to do so. Apart from Germany, Italy is the only Western country that still has a military presence in Niger.

A double withdrawal

Following the military coup on 26 July 2023, Niger began rejecting the influence of the former colonial power, France – an influence that had remained dominant for many decades. To this end, the government in Niamey told the French armed forces to leave the country. Having previously been forced out of Mali and Burkina Faso, France then lost its last remaining base in the central Sahel, where until recently several thousand French soldiers had been deployed. The EU has also had to relinquish its police and military presence in the Sahel. After the EU training mission in Mali was closed down, the new rulers in Niger terminated a long-standing police and military cooperation arrangement with Brussels in December 2023. Moreover, Niger has now enforced the withdrawal of US forces. The background to this decision was Washington’s attempt to instruct the new leaders in Niamey not to cooperate with Russia and Iran.[1] Niamey responded by terminating all military cooperation agreements with the US on 16 March. By mid-May, the first concrete withdrawal steps were agreed during a visit by a US delegation to Niger. The pull-out is to be completed by mid-September and even applies to the strategically highly important US drone base in Agadez in northern Niger, in which Washington has invested over 100 million dollars.

A new presence

Parallel to the expulsion of the French and US forces, the Nigerien government has begun systematically to expand its military cooperation with Russia. The first Russian military trainers and weapons arrived in Niamey on 10 April.[2] There is now said to be a three-figure number of Russian military personnel stationed in the country. As for Mali, Russian military trainers and Russian mercenaries have been deployed there for some time. Moscow has also deployed soldiers in Burkina Faso, although apparently only in small numbers so far.[3] Russian troops have also been playing an important role for years in the Central African Republic, successfully helping the government there to repel armed uprisings. Russian mercenaries are also active to a limited extent in Libya, while Chad has recently made headlines when the country’s then interim and now regular president, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, went to Moscow for talks in January and, in April, the government in the capital, N’Djamena, told US special forces stationed in Chad to leave, at least provisionally.[4] However, this move probably amounts to a regrouping, since no further steps have yet been taken.

“Valuable intelligence”

In the Sahel region, Italy has so far proved the exception in terms of a military “changing of the guard” – from the West to Russia. Italian armed forces have been present in Niamey since 2018 as part of a purely national military mission, the Missione bilaterale di supporto nella Repubblica del Niger (MISIN). Italians have been training Niger’s soldiers there, assisting the anti-terror struggle in the Sahel, and joining efforts to block unwanted migration.[5] Riccardo Guariglia, Secretary-General of the Italian Foreign Ministry, and Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, Commander of the Italian Operational Command, arrived in Niamey for talks at the beginning of March.[6] The aim was to resume and expand bilateral military cooperation. In Figliuolo’s view, this can be achieved through Italy’s role as a “privileged partner” of the de facto government of Niger.[7] Rome also sees this move as a gain in influence in the context of France’s marginalisation. According to the think tank IARI (Istituto Analisi Relazioni Internazionali), the MISIN will not only be able to pursue its original goals on the ground but also strengthen Italy’s role in its collaboration with the United States. After a US withdrawal from Niger, Rome will be in a position to provide Washington with “valuable intelligence” and act as a western bulwark against Russia’s growing influence.[8]

Hub in Niamey

Alongside the Italian military presence, there is now a possibility for a German troop contingent remaining in Niger. In addition to its training missions in the country, the Bundeswehr has set up an air transport hub at the military section of the capital Niamey’s airport. The facility is tasked with supplying the German troops deployed in northern Mali. Over the past few years Germany has invested around 100 million euros in upgrading the airport, adding warehouses for military equipment as well as air-conditioned accommodation.[9] Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has recently been working hard to ensure that at least a minimal military presence in Niger is maintained. A transport hub at the airport outside Niamey would serve as a central fixed point for Sahel operations. Pistorius flew to the capital of Niger back in December 2023 in order to kick-start negotiations on a deal to keep the Bundeswehr in the country. The talks were then continued by the German Defence Ministry in strict secrecy. What Pistorius can offer is not merely the prospect of further Bundeswehr training programs for Niger’s armed forces but also the construction of a military hospital for the country.[10]

“Don’t leave Africa to the Russians”

These efforts seem to be bearing fruit. On Wednesday, the German Defence Ministry announced that it had been able to conclude a provisional agreement with the government in Niamey. It was concluded just in the nick of time, before the MINUSMA mandate, which formed the legal basis for the German military presence at the airport, expired on 31 May. So Bundeswehr soldiers may remain in Niger for the time being. A mandate from the Bundestag is not, according to the Defence Ministry, required for this deployment. Berlin also wants to negotiate a new agreement with Niamey that would allow the permanent deployment of German troops, at least on a small scale. The idea is to convert the air transport hub into a “manned cold base”, a small-format facility which would have periods of inactivity but be available for military operations use when required. A low double-figures number of Bundeswehr personnel would be sufficient for running the base.[11] It is claimed that having such a cold base could offer a “decisive advantage” in the event of evacuations from civil war zones and “missions to rescue abducted Germans”.[12] Berlin’s central concern, however, is to show that the West is not completely abandoning its Sahel presence. As FDP party Bundestag member Alexander Müller, a military policy expert, demands, “We should not leave Africa completely to the Russians and Chinese.”


[1] Mathieu Olivier: Entre le Niger et les États-Unis, les raisons de la rupture. 19.03.2024.

[2] La Russie envoie des ‘instructeurs’ et du matériel militaire au Niger. 12.04.2024.

[3] Morgane Le Cam: Des organes de propagande proches du Kremlin annoncent l’arrivée de ‘spécialistes militaires’ russes au Burkina Faso. 25.01.2024.

[4] Mathieu Olivier: Au Tchad, un parfum de guerre froide avant la présidentielle. 29.04.2024.

[5] Niger: quanti sono e cosa fanno i militari italiani impiegati nella missione Misin. 27.07.2023.

[6] MISIN, prima misione congiunta Esteri e Difesa in Niger. 09.03.2024.

[7], [8] Andrea Licini: The MISIN Mission in Niger: an Opportunity for Italy. 28.05.2024.

[9] Matthias Gebauer, Marina Kormbaki: Pistorius lässt Geheimverhandlungen mit den Putschisten in Niger führen. 28.05.2024.

[10] See also: Im Sahel gegen Russland.

[11] Lufttransportstützpunkt in Niger wird über den 31. Mai hinaus weiterbetrieben. 29.05.2024.

[12] Matthias Gebauer, Marina Kormbaki: Pistorius lässt Geheimverhandlungen mit den Putschisten in Niger führen. 28.05.2024.