The U.S. first considered the construction of a drone base in Agadez, central Niger, in 2014. On Friday, the United States military formally announced that it would begin construction on a $100 million base for surveillance drones in Niger.
The temporary base will be located in Agadez in an effort to aid the country in protecting its borders and in fending off militant groups that attack the oil-rich African state. For Africans in search of a northern passageway to Europe, Agadez is a major transit site. The base’s large price tag will purportedly take care of the cost of construction, equipment, and fuel.
At this time, Niger is wrestling with attacks from the jihadist force, Boko Haram, across the country’s southern region and with al Qaeda-related factions wandering Niger’s desert lands.
Certain security sources have also reported unease over the possible arrival of Islamic State fighters from Libya through Niger’s southern border as they flee from Libyan forces.
In an email to Reuters, a spokesperson for the U.S. Africa Command said, “At the request of, and in close coordination with, the Government of Niger, United States Africa Command is establishing a temporary, expeditionary cooperative security location in Agadez, Niger,” the spokesperson continued, “Agadez is an ideal, central location to enable ISR collection (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to face the security threat across the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin region.”
Michelle Baldanza, spokesperson for the Pentagon, also verified that the United States “has negotiated an agreement with the government of Niger to allow for the construction of a new runway and all associated pavements facilities and infrastructure,” at the Agadez base.
Mahamadou Issoufou, president of Niger, was re-elected on the promise of improving security across the country back in March. Despite the president’s promise, certain areas are still susceptible to attacks. The country’s southern region, Diffa, shares borders with the Boko Haram fortress in Nigeria and is currently in a state of emergency. As of Friday, government officials for Niger were not available for comment.
According to the spokesperson at the U.S. Africa Command, there are already forces in Niamey, Niger’s capital, including MQ-9 Reaper drones that are outfitted with weapons and surveillance equipment. Drones from Niamey will be transferred to Agadez in the future, said the spokesperson. The information collected by the drones will be communicated to partners of the country including Chad, Mali, and Nigeria.
Ryan Cummings, an independent security analyst, says that drones can be used by the U.S. to support counterterrorism without really getting involved in the war against the militants that occupy Africa.
The new base is another example of the United States’ growing military ties with the fragile region of Sahel, a stretch of land that extends between Senegal and Sudan. In May, the U.S. penned a deal of defense with Senegal to simplify the deployment of troops into the country.
The military ties between France and Niger have also strengthened with the construction of a base in the northern region of the African state. France also has 3,500 troops deployed along the Sahel to battle Islamist fighters.