A German C-160 cargo aircraft inaugurated a new runway in Niger’s capital Niamey, the Bundeswehr said in a release, a step toward increasing the capacity of the increasingly important air base in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled Sahel region.
The Transall C-160 ESS took off and landed to test for “discrepancies” in what the Tuesday, November 26 release described as a new “makeshift” runway.
The Nigeren Air Force as well as military aircraft from other nations currently use the existing single runway at Niamey’s international airport.
When the new runway is complete, it will be fully integrated into the overall architecture of the airport, increasing the civil and military flight capacity, the release said.
The new runway will ensure that “Western Partner Nations will be able to operate permanently” even if the main runway at Niamey airport is under repair. This means that the primary task of the Niamey air base – the provision of medical evacuation for German and allied forces with the Transall C-160 ESS – is guaranteed around the clock, the release said, adding that without the temporary runway, certain ground operations would also no longer be possible.
“It was an extremely successful day for all of us,” Lieutenant Colonel Markus Z., head of the air transport base in Niamey said. “The multinational cooperation with comrades from Italy, France and the U.S.A. worked wonderfully. The tight timeframe of only four weeks until the first take-off was realized by teamwork.”
The German base in Niamey was officially opened by then-Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen in November 2018. Around 40 German personnel are stationed in Niger, part of the contingent deployed to the Sahel as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA. German forces conduct tactical air transport missions from Niamey.
Germany’s Bundestag in May approved the extension until 2020 of a number of military missions in Africa, including the MINUSMA deployment, although a separate deployment of special forces on a training mission in Niger remains controversial.
Four French Mirage 2000-D fighter jets are based at Niamey, part of the growing France-led Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel. According to an Armed Forces Ministry dossier on the mission published in July, France also has three Reaper drones, and between six and 10 tactical and strategic transport aircraft including C-130s, spread between the Niamey base and another in Chad’s capital N’Djamena. French Atlantic 2 long-range patrol aircraft and A400M transport aircraft have also been used in the region.
Niger hosts 700 U.S. troops, the deployment in Africa, and Niger’s government recently gave the U.S. permission to arm drones stationed in the country. Armed U.S drones already fly from its “Air Base 101” at the Niamey airport, and earlier this month, AFRICOM said U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flight operations had begun from Nigerien Air Base 201 in the northern city of Agadez. The CIA also operates a separate drone base in Niger.