Key US drone hub in Africa doubles in price to $100mn – report

© Staff Sgt. Tony R. Tolley
The price tag for the construction and operation of a key US military drone base in Niger has skyrocketed, reaching $100 million, according to US media. Niger is the only state from which Washington operates its lethal MQ-9 drones in Northwest Africa.

The hub, codenamed “Air Base 201” is being built on the outskirts of Agadez, the largest city in central Niger.

Now Washington is set to double the initial sum of $50 million for the military site, The Intercept  citing documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. 

The request for finances was submitted to Congress in the 2015 defense bill and authorized by President Barack Obama.

After analyzing documents obtained from Pentagon, The Intercept  that in addition to the initial $50 million for the construction, the US military would receive nearly $50 million more for the “operation and maintenance” of the hub. 

According to the documents obtained by the outlet, the project is “considered the most important US military construction effort in Africa.”

“Air Base 201” should host MQ-9 Reapers – an upgraded model of a lethal Predator drone. “Niger is the only country in NW Africa” to allow Washington to operate the drones to target potential terror threats from the base, the documents .

“RPA presence in NW Africa supports operations against seven [Department of State]-designated foreign terrorist organizations,” one of the papers . Apart from the remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs), the base will be able to host C -17 transport planes. 

According to a 2015 note to Congress the US “negotiated an agreement with the government of Niger,” to construct the facility.

© Google Earth

2016 satellite images, presented by Adam Moore of the department of geography at the University of California show what is believed to be a runway, and several more facilities under construction at the “Airbase 201”.

The US military has so far shared few details about the base.

“Due to operational security considerations, we don’t release details on numbers of personnel or specific missions or locations, including information regarding the Nigerien military air base located in Agadez,” the Pentagon told the Intercept.

The US already has a military presence in Niger. Since 2013 it has been conducting surveillance drone operations from the Niamey base against terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. It has been doing so alongside France which also used the compound to battle jihadism in the region, including in Mali.

But according to the papers released by The Intercept, Washington is planning to completely focus on operations conducted from the facility near Agadez.

“This project will shift manpower and assets from Niamey, Niger, to Agadez, Niger,” the paper 

Washington has openly admitted hosting only one permanent military presence in state of Djibouti, The Nation . However according to the outlet the country is currently hosting over 60 various outposts in 34 states across Africa, with some though “held in reserve” and some close to be “shuttered”.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the US has boosted its budget for anti-terrorist programs in Africa. Under the US Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) program, Washington allocated some $288 million for African countries between 2009 and 2013, with Niger being a top recipient, according to The Intercept.