The United States on January 22 handed over to the Niger Air Force a hangar that will house two C-130 transport aircraft in Agadez in northern Niger, U.S. Africa Command said in a release.
The handover comes as the U.S. is considering a reduction of its military footprint in Africa, a possibility that West African leaders and France have said could hamper the fight against Islamic State- and al-Qaeda-linked groups in the region.
“The hangar will ultimately shelter up to two C-130 mobility aircraft, recently purchased by the Nigerien [sic] Air Force from the United States,” AFRICOM said in the January 24 release.
The U.S. Department of State funded the 2,800 square metre hangar, which includes an engine maintenance room, supply storage, training area, battery, and tool rooms, and has a taxiway and apron measuring almost 13,000 square metres.
“Since 2016, the U.S. had invested more than $60M in “total package support” to Niger’s C-130 program that will include a team of maintainers and training fuel upon arrival of the first aircraft later this spring,” the release said.
“This hangar, which will not only boost the operational capabilities of the Nigerien Armed Forces by allowing the deployment of C-130 flights, but will also strengthen joint actions between the Nigerien and U.S. forces,” said Colonel Abdoul Kader Amirou, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Niger Air Force, during remarks at the handover.
“We have shared goals of security in the region,” said Air Force Brigadier General Steven deMilliano, deputy director of strategy, engagement, and programs directorate for U.S. Africa Command. “This milestone ceremony marks an advancement of our partners’ air capabilities by providing baseline infrastructure for their incoming aircraft, which ultimately lays the groundwork for increased organic air mobility to better support operations within the region.”
“We fully recognize the efforts Niger is undertaking to confront these threats and commend the Nigerien Defense and Security Forces for their commitment and daily contributions to defending Niger and combating violent extremist organizations,” said Eric P. Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Niger.
Calls for the US to stay engaged in the Sahel
U.S. forces based in Niger provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to their partners fighting terrorism in the Sahel, as well as crucial air-to-air refueling, but the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said earlier this month that resources “could be reduced and then shifted,” either to the continental U.S. or the Pacific region.
Milley said the U.S. is “developing those options in coordination with our allies and partners.”
Niger hosts around 700 U.S. troops, the largest deployment in Africa.
Work on the large and controversial U.S. air base known as Niger Air Base 201 in the northern city of Agadez began in 2016. The U.S. Air Force began flight operations there in August 2019, with C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft flying missions into the facility. The 6,200-feet runway is capable of supporting any aircraft type up to a C-17 Globemaster III.
The CIA also operates a separate drone base in Niger.
On January 13, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel states announced a new Coalition for the Sahel which will see increased coordination between French and local forces focused on the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border zone and targeting Islamic State as a priority. The new Sahel Coalition will see Barkhane and FCG5S forces operating under joint command.
The six leaders urged the United States to remain militarily engaged in the counter-terror fight in West Africa, a call later repeated by the leaders of Senegal and Togo.