US military resumes drone, crewed aircraft operations in post-coup Niger

US reaches agreement with Niger’s military leaders to restart drone, crewed aircraft missions at two airbases.

A C-130 US Air Force plane in Niger
A C-130 US Air Force plane lands as Nigerien soldiers stand in formation during military exercise with US Special Forces in Diffa region in 2014 [File: Joe Penney/Reuters]

The United States military has resumed operations in Niger, flying drones and other aircraft out of airbases in the country more than a month after a coup halted activities, the head of Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa said.

Since the July coup that removed President Mohamed Bazoum, the approximately 1,100 US soldiers deployed in the West African country have been confined to their military bases.

General James Hecker said on Wednesday that negotiations with the military rulers of Niger resulted in some intelligence and surveillance missions resuming.

“For a while, we weren’t doing any missions on the bases, they pretty much closed down the airfields,” Hecker told reporters at the annual Air and Space Forces Association convention.

“Through the diplomatic process, we are now doing, I wouldn’t say 100 percent of the missions that we were doing before, but we’re doing a large amount of missions that we’re doing before,” he said.

Hecker said the US is flying both crewed and unmanned missions and that those flights resumed “within the last couple of weeks”.

The Pentagon said last week that some US forces were moved from Air Base 101 near the capital Niamey, to another base, Airport 201, in Agadez.

Agadez is located about 920km (some 570 miles) northeast of Niamey.

The US military has made Niger a primary regional outpost for its patrols with armed drones and other operations against fighters and rebel movements that have seized territory in the region, killed civilians and fought the armed forces.

West Africa recorded more than 1,800 rebel attacks in the first six months of this year, which killed nearly 4,600 people, according to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

France, which remains an ally of ex-President Bazoum, has approximately 1,500 soldiers in Niger. Declaring its continued support for the removed president, officials in Paris have called the coup and its officials illegitimate.

Niger’s military leaders have also called for the French military to leave the country.

Speculation has swirled that France will be forced into a full military withdrawal, with a French defence ministry source saying last week that the French army was holding talks with Niger’s military over pulling out “elements” of its presence in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters