France will pull its soldiers out of Niger following a July coup in the West African country, President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday, dealing a huge blow to French influence and counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel region.
Macron said 1,500 troops would withdraw by the end of the year and that France, the former colonial power in Niger, refused to "be held hostage by the putchists".
France's exit, which comes after weeks of pressure from the junta and popular demonstrations, is likely to exacerbate Western concerns over Russia's expanding influence in Africa. The Russian mercenary force Wagner already present in Niger's neighbour Mali.
The French president has refused to recognise the junta as Niger's legitimate authority but said Paris would coordinate troop withdraw with the coup leaders.
"We will consult with the putschists because we want things to be orderly," Macron said in an interview with France's TF1 and France 2 television stations.
France's ambassador was also being pulled out and would return to the country in the next few hours, Macron added.
French influence over its former colonies has waned in West Africa in recent years, just as popular vitriol has grown. Its forces have been kicked out of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso since coups in those countries, reducing its role in a region-wide fight against deadly Islamist insurgencies.
Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the United States, which have used it as a base to fight an Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa's wider Sahel region.