The United States is setting up a $110million drone base in Niger that will tackle terrorism in Nigeria, Mali, Libya etc.
This base will serve as a new front in America’s battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa’s vast Sahel region, including the Boko Haram insurgency, the Associated Press reports.
The Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year.
The base which lies a few miles outside Agadez, Niger, was built at the request of the Nigerien government.
AP writes that the sophisticated base will eventually house fighter jets and MQ-9 drones transferred from the capital Niamey.
The drones, with surveillance and added striking capabilities, will have a range enabling them to reach a number of West and North African countries.
Only a few knew of the drone base until October 2017, when an ambush by Islamic State group-linked extremists killed four U.S. soldiers and five Nigeriens.
US Air Force officials say the $110 million project is the largest troop labor construction project in U.S. history.
It will cost $15 million annually to operate.
According to AP, the drones at the base are expected to target several different al-Qaida and Islamic State group-affiliated fighters in countries throughout the Sahel, a sprawling region just south of the Sahara, including the area around Lake Chad, where Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has spread.
There are fears that as the U.S. puts drones at the forefront of the fight against extremists in Africa, civilians will be mistaken for fighters.
“We are afraid of falling back into the same situation as in Afghanistan, with many mistakes made by American soldiers who did not always know the difference between a wedding ceremony and a training of terrorist groups,” Amadou Roufai, a Nigerien administration official told AP.
U.S. Africa Command spokeswoman Samantha Reho says Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance which the drone base will provide, are crucial in the fight against extremism.
“The location in Agadez will improve U.S. Africa Command’s capability to facilitate intelligence-sharing that better supports Niger and other partner nations, such as Nigeria, Chad, Mali and other neighbors in the region and will improve our capability to respond to regional security issues,” Reho said.
The intelligence gathered by the drones can be used by Niger and other U.S. partners for prosecuting extremists, said Commander Brad Harbaugh, who is in charge of the new base.
Extremist threats in Africa include al-Qaida-linked fighters in Mali and Burkina Faso, Islamic State group-affiliated fighters in Niger, Mali and Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.
These extremist groups often take advantage of the vast region’s widespread poverty and countries’ often poorly equipped security forces, to wreak havoc and kill hundreds.
Nigeria has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency since 2009. The terrorist sect seeks to carve out an Islamic State in the predominantly Muslim north of the country.
Boko Haram has killed hundreds and abducted thousands more since its former leader, Mohammed Yusuf was replaced by a more bloodthirsty Abubakar Shekau.