President Mohamed Bazoum’s comments come a day after France and European allies announced their withdrawal from Mali.
President Mohamed Bazoum said Niger had agreed to French and European special forces being deployed to its territory from Mali to bolster security near the border with its neighboring country.
Bazoum’s comments on Friday came a day after France and its European allies announced they would begin withdrawing troops from Mali fighting armed groups operating in the western part of Africa’s Sahel region.
“Our goal is for our border with Mali to be secure,” Bazoum said on Twitter, adding that he expected threats from armed groups to increase in the region after the forces left.
“This area will be further infested and terrorist groups will grow stronger. We know they are destined to expand their influence,” Bazoum said, adding that the deployed forces would be able to respond to threats from armed groups in the region.
Some 2,400 French soldiers who were part of the forces deployed in Mali to fight groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIL), and around 900 special forces from the French-led Task Force Takuba, are expected to leave Mali In the coming months.
Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have struggled to contain armed groups that have killed hundreds, displaced millions and rendered swathes of territory ungovernable in the tri-border area of the West African Sahel.
Maïkol Zodi, leader of a movement that leads protests against foreign troops in Niger, said Thursday that their presence was illegal.
“It is unacceptable and intolerable to accept this redeployment on our territory. If they do, we will treat them as an occupying force,” Zodi said.
“A Malian problem”
Mali has struggled to regain stability since 2012, when Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned armed groups seized the northern two-thirds of the country.
Forces of the former colonial power France intervened and helped defeat the armed groups in 2013, but the fighters regrouped in the desert and began to carry out regular attacks against the army and civilians. They have since exported their methods to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger where violence has skyrocketed in recent years, leaving a serious humanitarian crisis in its wake.
France has about 4,300 soldiers in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali. His so-called Barkhane force is also present in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
A statement signed by France and its African and European allies on Thursday said “multiple obstructions” by Mali’s ruling military government meant conditions were no longer in place to operate in the country.
France and 15 European countries condemned in December the decision of the Malian authorities to authorize the deployment of personnel from the Russian group Wagner, which has reportedly started operating in the country and is accused of rights abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya and in Syria.
The withdrawal decision applies to both Barkhane and the European Takuba force that France had tried to forge with its allies.
President Emmanuel Macron said the French bases at Gossi, Menaka and Gao in Mali would be closed within the next four to six months and promised an “orderly” withdrawal.
On Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Mali’s ability to fight armed groups on its territory was now its own problem.
“It’s a Malian problem, it’s no longer a French problem,” he told LCI television.