US military resumes drone flights in Niger
The US military has resumed drone flights and manned aircraft missions out of its bases in Niger as part of its counterterrorism mission, the head of Washington’s Air Forces in Europe and Africa, General James Hecker, announced on Wednesday.
The resumption comes more than a month after operations were halted in response to the July 26 coup in Niger, which ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
Speaking to reporters at the annual Air and Space Forces Association convention at National Harbor, Maryland on Wednesday, Hecker said drone operations for intelligence and surveillance missions had resumed “in recent weeks” following talks with coup leaders in Niamey.
“For a while, we weren’t doing any missions on the bases, they pretty much closed down the airfields,” the Associated Press quoted Hecker as saying.
“Through the diplomatic process, we are now doing, I wouldn’t say 100% of the missions that we were doing before, but we’re doing a large amount of missions that we’re doing before,” the military chief added.
Niger is the primary hub for US military operations involving counterterrorism intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance against Islamic militant groups in West Africa’s Sahel region. Washington maintains two bases in the country, which house around 1,100 US troops.
Last week, Niamey’s new military rulers announced that they had reopened the country’s airspace to all commercial flights, which had been closed since early August, just days after they took control of the government.
However, a US military official told the VOA news outlet in an interview published on Friday that commercial flight access had not “normalized” drone flight frequencies.
The Pentagon previously said some of its military personnel and assets had been relocated from an air base near the Nigerien capital to another in Agadez, where the army has flown drones since 2019.
Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary, clarified that the action was “simply a precautionary measure,” emphasizing that there were no threats to US troops or violence on the ground.
US Department of Defense Press Secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder also reportedly confirmed that Washington was back flying missions in Niger, but only to “monitor for threats for the purposes of force protection.”