By Idrees Ali and Daphne Psaledakis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States ordered the evacuation of some staff and families from its embassy in Niger after military officers seized power there, the State Department said on Wednesday, even as the mission will remain open and senior leadership will continue working from there.
Niger is a key Western ally in a fight against Islamist insurgents. Foreign powers have condemned the takeover, fearing it could allow the militants to gain ground.
“Given ongoing developments in Niger and out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State is ordering the temporary departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and eligible family members from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.
“The United States remains committed to our relationship with the people of Niger and to Nigerien democracy. We remain diplomatically engaged at the highest levels,” Miller said.
He said the embassy remains open for limited, emergency services to U.S. citizens.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity prior to the announcement, said U.S. personnel would be moved out of Niger by aircraft chartered by the State Department and military aircraft would not be used. The official said “core” staff will remain at the embassy.
The State Department is advising Americans not to travel to Niger.
France, the United States, Germany and Italy have troops in Niger on counterinsurgency and training missions, helping the army to fight groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
France and Italy are evacuating European citizens from Niger.
There has been no announcement of troops being withdrawn so far. There are about 1,100 U.S. troops in Niger, where the U.S. military operates from two bases.
The United States was criticized for its handling of the evacuation of U.S. citizens in Sudan after the sudden eruption of violence between the military and the well-armed Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group on April 15 turned residential areas into war zones and prompted hundreds of thousands of people to flee.
Washington evacuated all government personnel from the U.S. embassy in Khartoum and suspended operations there due to the security risks. But U.S. citizens faced struggles leaving the country amid the violence and encountered robbery and looting.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by Eric Beech Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Alistair Bell and Chris Reese)