US Air Force expands mission out of Niger hub
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. military has begun drone operations out of a new surveillance hub in Niger to gather intelligence on Islamic militants in the region, U.S. Africa Command said Friday.
Known as Nigerien Air Base 201 in the remote Saharan desert town of Agadez, the site is intended to give AFRICOM a deeper reach into spots where militants operate, including Libya.
“We are working with our African and international partners to counter security threats in West Africa,” AFRICOM’s Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement. “The construction of this base demonstrates our investment in our African partners and mutual security interests in the region.”
Townsend added that U.S. forces were in the country at the request of Niger’s government.
U.S. forces are able to launch armed and unarmed aircraft in Niger’s airspace as part of the agreement, AFRICOM said. Niger granted authority for armed drone flights soon after an Oct. 2017 ambush in the country left four U.S. soldiers dead and put a spotlight on the risks American troops face in the area.
Gen. Jeff Harrigian, head of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, said Agadez was selected for the “geographic and strategic flexibility it offers to regional security efforts.”
Both U.S. and Nigerien aircraft use the new runway at Air Base 201, which the U.S. Air Force spent years developing.
In August, the Air Force began limited flights out of the base to carry out resupply missions at Agadez, where several hundred airmen are based.