US military resumes drone and manned anti-terrorism missions out of Niger bases

Coup temporarily halted US military activities in the country

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect during Flintlock 2014, a U.S.-led international training mission for African militaries, in Diffa, Niger March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File photo
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The US military has resumed anti-terrorism missions in Niger, flying drones and other aircraft from airbases more than a month after a coup temporarily halted all activities there, the head of US Air Forces for Europe and Africa said on Wednesday.

Since the July coup, the 1,100 US forces posted in the country have been confined inside their military bases.

Last week the Pentagon said some military personnel and equipment had been moved from the airbase near Niamey, the capital of Niger, to another in Agadez.

Niamey is about 920km away from Agadez.

In recent weeks some of those intelligence and surveillance missions have been able to resume due to US negotiations with the junta, said Gen James Hecker, the top Air Force commander for Europe and Africa.

“For a while we weren’t doing any missions on the bases, they pretty much closed down the airfields,” Gen Hecker said.

“Through the diplomatic process we are now doing, I wouldn’t say 100 per cent of the missions that we were doing before, but we’re doing a large amount of missions that we’re doing before.”

Gen Hecker, in a briefing at the annual Air and Space Forces Association convention at National Harbour, Maryland, said the US was flying manned and unmanned missions and that they resumed “within the last couple of weeks".

The significant distance between the two bases means that the while flights are going out, some missions are “not getting as much data, because you’re not overhead for as long” because of the amount of fuel it takes to get out and back, he said.

The US has made Niger its main regional outpost for wide-ranging patrols by armed drones and other anti-terrorism operations against extremist movements that over the years have seized territory, murdered civilians and battled foreign armies.

The bases are a critical part of America's overall anti-terrorism efforts in West Africa.

The US has also invested years and hundreds of millions of dollars in training Nigerien forces.

In 2018, fighters loyal to ISIS ambushed and killed four American service members, four Nigeriens and an interpreter.

West Africa recorded more than 1,800 extremist attacks in the first six months of this year, which killed nearly 4,600 people, according to the Economic Community of West African States.

The extremist group Boko Haram operates in neighbouring Nigeria and Chad.

Along Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, ISIS in the Greater Sahara and Al Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin pose greater threats.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 11:33 PM