The French army said Tuesday it had begun withdrawing its troops from Niger after being ordered out of the country by the leaders of a coup that ousted a pro-Paris president. The move kicks off a complex and sensitive process that Paris expects to be completed by the end of the year, drawing the curtain on another French anti-jihadist operation in Africa. “The first troops have left,” the spokesman of the French chief of staff told AFP, confirming an announcement Monday by Niger’s military leadership, which said that the 1,400-strong French contingent would begin leaving Tuesday. A French defence source said a first group of soldiers that were considered priority for evacuation for health or humanitarian reasons flew out of Niger on Monday. Niger had spoken of convoys of troops being escorted out of the country overland by the Nigerien army, without saying where they would go. The withdrawal was expected to cause logistical headaches for the French, with few safe routes out of a region plagued by myriad jihadist groups. Around 1,000 French troops were stationed in the capital Niamey, with another 400 deployed at two forward bases in the north-west, near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, a hotbed of insurgent activity. It is the fourth time in under two years that French troops have been sent packing by a former African colony, dealing a severe blow to France’s influence on the continent and to its prestige on the international stage. – Eyes on US – France’s ambassador to Niger was also given his marching orders by the leaders of the July 26 coup that toppled French-backed President Mohamed Bazoum. He returned to Paris on September 27, prompting celebrations in Niamey. Niamey’s military rulers had labelled the announcement of France’s diplomatic and troop withdrawals in September as a “step towards the sovereignty of Niger”. Mali and Burkina Faso, which have also undergone coups in the past two years, have also turned their backs on France, accusing it of a colonialist attitude and of failing to effectively combat jihadists. Mali has pivoted towards Moscow, bringing in mercenaries from the notorious Wagner group. In Niger, anti-French demonstrators have also been seen waving Russian flags — scenes in stark contrast to rejoicing that greeted French troops in 2013 when they helped liberate northern Mali from Al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents. Niger had in recent months been acting as a regional hub for French troops helping armies in the region fight Islamist insurgents. French President Emmanuel Macron had initially attempted to keep his troops and ambassador in the country, arguing that only the ousted Bazoum had the authority to request their withdrawal. In late September however, he gave into pressure to bring them home after months of anti-French protests. France still insists, however, that Bazoum’s ousted government remains the sole legitimate authority. The former president remains under house arrest in Niamey. The United States still has about 1,100 military personnel in the country but after Macron’s announcement said last month it would “evaluate” its next steps.