Western military presence in Niger faces uncertainty following coup
France, US facing uncertain prospects for operations, bases in Sahel region
By Fatma Esma Arslan
The military presence of Western allies in Niger is facing unprecedented challenges following a military coup in the West African nation last week.
France, which withdrew its military presence to Niger after the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, and the US, which constructed its largest base for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in Niger, are now witnessing a level of threat in the Sahel region.
On July 26, a group of soldiers calling themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country (CNSP) delivered a statement on Nigerien state television shortly after detaining President Mohamed Bazoum, saying they took the step due to the "deteriorating security situation and bad governance."
Bazoum was elected in 2021 in Niger’s first democratic power transition since it gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960.
France, which concluded its decade-long Operation Barkhane, a counter-terrorism mission in Africa’s Sahel region, in Mali last year, continues to use the Niamey Air Base 101 as a hub for its operations.
Located near the Diori Hamani International Airport in the capital Niamey, Air Base 101 serves as a joint mission site for US and French forces.
The base, where around 800 US and 1,500 French troops are stationed, also hosts personnel from the EU countries for both military and civilian training missions.
The base operates a wide range of aircraft, including eight Mirage 2000D fighter jets, four MQ-9 Reaper armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a Boeing C-135FR refueling aircraft, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters, and The NHIndustries NH90 military helicopters.
- US drone base
Moreover, the US has established an expansive drone base in Niger’s Agadez region, known as Niger Air Base 201.
Following its permanent base in Djibouti, Niger Air Base 201 stands as the second-largest US base in Africa.
Built and financed by the US while owned by the Nigerien military, the base has been operational with high-tech satellite communication systems since 2019.
Leased from the Nigerien government for a period of 10 years, Base 201 is regarded as the US's largest and most expensive drone base.
The US invested $110 million in construction and $30 million annually for maintenance. The base functions as a primary intelligence and surveillance center for the Sahel region.
Spread across 25 square kilometers, the base accommodates a comprehensive fleet of UAVs and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) and, including MQ-9 Reaper and C17 transport planes.
With a total of 1,000 troops in Niger, the US military is currently unable to conduct flights from the base due to airspace restrictions following the coup.
The strained relations between Western countries and the coup governments in Mali and Burkina Faso have made cooperation with Niger a necessity for the EU.
The EU launched an EU-led military training mission (EUMPM Niger) in February for a 3-year mission.
The mission aims to provide training and advisory services to the Nigerien army with a contingent of 50 to 100 soldiers.
In May, the German parliament approved the deployment of 60 soldiers to the mission, with an initial deployment of three soldiers.
Estonia also expressed its intention to send five soldiers to EUMPM Niger on July 25, just one day before the coup.
Furthermore, the EU's civilian training mission, EUCAP Sahel Niger, has been providing human rights-based training to security forces since 2012.
Italy, within the framework of its Bilateral Support Mission (MISIN) has been training Nigerien soldiers since 2018.
Italy currently has 350 personnel stationed in Niamey for the MISIN and EUMPM Niger missions.
The continuation of these missions remains uncertain in light of the EU's suspension of security cooperation with Niger.
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