Plans for US Surveillance Drones in Niger

News outlets reported this week that the government of Niger has given the United States permission to base surveillance drones there. Reuters:

The U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting on Monday with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, [a government] source said.

“Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said.

The crisis in Mali seems to be one major factor in generating US interest in having a base in Niger.

More here from the AP, which says the agreement came “after months of negotiations.”

This passage from Stars and Stripes offers further insight into why the US military chose Niger:

U.S. officials have announced no details about basing plans in Niger, but acknowledge the ability to operate out of the country, which is developing increasingly close diplomatic and defense ties with the United States, would place military assets close to many hot spots.

“Just consider the neighborhood,” a U.S. military official speaking on the condition of anonymity said. “Libya to the north, where there’s been instability. Nigeria, and [Islamist militant group] Boko Haram directly south. Algeria, where there was just an attack, and Mali to the west.”

Establishing a base for drones in Niger would add to existing US military infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. The Washington Post reported last June on a “a network of [approximately one dozen] small air bases” that the US military had set up in Africa since 2007, with Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou constituting a “key hub” in this network. The Stars and Stripes article mentioned above quotes Dr. Peter Pham as saying that alleged complications surrounding the base in Burkina Faso may have limited US capacity to operate drones in and around Mali:

Insufficient infrastructure in western Africa could be one reason the U.S. is not engaged in drone strikes in places such as northern Mali, according to some experts.


“Part of this probably is linked to the reported withdrawal of country clearance by the embassy in Bamako for manned surveillance flights from the formerly clandestine program in Burkina Faso,” said the Atlantic Council’s Pham. “And yet another part might indeed be the reluctance of potential partners to allow operations from their territory after the way the program in Burkina Faso was exposed.”

Despite having some infrastructure in place in Africa, then, US military planners seem to be looking for greater flexibility and capacity.

US military cooperation with Niger is not new. Niger participated in the Pan Sahel Initiative, a counterterrorism program led by the State Department from 2002 to 2005 that included Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. Niger also participates in the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, a US government interagency program (State, Defense, USAID) that replaced and expanded the Pan Sahel Initiative. Niger receives assistance under the International Military Education and Training program as well.

For an official perspective on US-Nigerien relations, see here, and AFRICOM’s Niger page is here. I have not yet found much in the way of Nigerien reactions to the news, but President Issoufou’s site has a brief note (French) on his meeting with the American Ambassador, while a Nigerien news site has a story, seemingly based largely on information reported in the international media, here (French).

What do you think of this news? What are the possible benefits and risks?

21 thoughts on “Plans for US Surveillance Drones in Niger

  1. The risks are the same as they always were, blowback from unpopular air strikes, a drone getting downed for some reason and being discovered, the host government withdrawing permission to use their air space, the base being attacked by local groups etc. The benefits, well they were mentioned in the article.

    Two small bits of news in recent weeks. The first is that the current chairman of the A.U. has said that the A.U. moved to slowly over the Mali issue (I wonder if they see the French intervention as something that could have been avoided). The second is that the president of Ethiopia apparently has been chosen to be the next A.U. chairman. Is there any analysis of who gets the position under what circumstances?

    • Good points on risks. Blowback is definitely a concern here.

      Thanks also for sharing this news. I don’t have much insight into how internal AU politics work – I’ll look into it.

  2. Pingback: AQIM activity in the Sahara in relation to travel - Page 30 - Horizons Unlimited - The HUBB

  3. Pingback: Plans for US Surveillance Drones in Niger « tamoudre

  4. Not really. Most for the drones but do not want France or the West taking over their country. The last entry on the third page had this:

    ” I am a student in an engineering school in France and I work a lot on embedded systems (UAVs, smart cars, obots r, …) and let me tell you that the drones are not equipped with surveillance cameras that but detectors also plays. And these drones equipped with “cameras” will not only monitor terrorist activities in the area but especially send files permanently countries leaders of the Pentagon, the mining and oil activities throughout the area that share a lot of countries African particulièremen but t Niger.
    It is expected to impact in the coming years, the benefits, there are already with Areva continues to plunder the Niger uranium all his for over 50 years.
    Nigerians should also seek clarification s on the activities of these resources (mining and oil).
    We need to say NO to thieves often, I think.”

    There were several who commented on the 5% — Embassy for France and for the US taking 5% of the area of Niamey while the Niger Embassy in the US has 2% of A building.

  5. I don’t see a lot of upside to this for the US or Niger. The US has an interest in supporting its allies (France) and friendly states, but this seems to entrench the US more deeply than it needs to be to accomplish those goals, and exposes it to counteractions that might actually be worse than the problems its intended to head off. For Niger, friendly relations with a superpower are always good, but the US has not shown much of an ability to help its African friends prosper through military aid– the US provided lots of training to the Malian army, which promptly fell apart in various ways, including staging a coup, suffering large scale defections, and being routed initially by the Tuaregs and Islamists.

    • The U.S. has been politically and militarily useful to African nations before. Rwanda enjoys a great deal of maneuverability from the U.S. giving it political cover at the U.N. The support the U.S. gave to Chad helped it win a crushing victory over Libya in the 1980s (though I suspect Chad could have done so anyway). Kenya and the U.S. find each other useful in East African and North African politics.

      • Is that why the US looks the other way when Museveni & Kagame do something wrong? And how has the closeness of the US to these men advanced the cause of democracy in Uganda & Rwanda?

      • Since when were we discussing democratization? If we are then I’m fairly sure you’ll find a good number of people in Rwanda who would say something like ‘our nation isn’t ready for democracy’ or ‘only Kagame can lead us’ or some typical defense of dictatorship, so do you want the U.S. pushing nations on democracy or having pragmatic ties with those nations*?

        It’s also kinda amusing to hear you criticize the U.S. over having any ties with dictators after you were the one who was so fervent in disagreeing with my opinion that one of the main issues spurring African separatism was bad governance.

        *The same way you want the U.S. to invest in a nation even if that de facto props up a dictatorship.

  6. Hi Alex,

    For the new “closeness” relation between the US and Niger, you have to look at the Nigerien Ambassador in the US. As you pointed in one of your blog (I think?), Francophone African elites or leaders are mainly trained and educated in France, but I can tell you that it is changing…

    The current Ambassador got his PhD at the University of Florida. It also might explain why this new found “closeness”

    Thanks and good post as usual

  7. Yesterday the Niger government announced that no American could leave Niamey without a security escort–unless a special exemption was granted. Certainly that can’t be coincidence with the new drone base being announced. I’m not sure who that affects other than U.S. missionaries, as there are no more Peace Corps volunteers or NGO volunteers (possibly a small handful) who operate outside of Niamey these days. Tourism by Americans is close to non-existent.

      • Do you mean why would the Nigerien government announce it? Well, technically the news came from the U.S. Embassy at: informing registered Americans that they no longer could leave the city without the escort—the Nigeriens would send anyone back who attempted to do so.

        My assumption is now that the U.S. drone base in Niger exists, all Americans in Niger are considered targets and its too dangerous for Americans outside of the capital area, as the rest of the country is pretty wide open and Westerners stick out like sore thumbs.

      • I was wondering (under the assumption it was from the Nigerien side) why it wasn’t just a quiet agreement. I didn’t realize it was an American announcement.

  8. First, took them so much time to do it. Second, this is exactly the situation they wanted in closing their eyes on the jihadi movement in northern Mali. From around 50 to few hundreds or thousands. They beautifully manipulated the jihadis to crush them at once and at the same time obtain what Africom never gotten by asking. Anyway, the drones are the only solution to get ride of these salafists. Time now to settle things and look at how to include touaregs as full citizen of mali, not citizen of secomd zone.

  9. Interesting article comfirming what i said above. Aqim was followed in everything they were doing and let to do so since 2003. Read this morning an excellent article from the new york time (from lassiter?) indicating in fine which country was supplying ansardine & co. If the anti-terorist french judge trévidic looks into the arlit kidnapping, some countries will be very embarassed.

  10. Pingback: US Embassy Niger: Curfew for Official Personnel From Midnight – 6:00 AM | Diplopundit

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