US is Using Armed Drones to Combat Increasing Terrorism in Niger
The United States has begun to operate armed drones in the African country of Niger. This is in response to the perceived growing rate of extremism in the country and an attack on U.S. soldiers last year. On October 4, 2017, four U.S. Green Berets were killed in an ambush in Niger, raising concern U.S. operations were insufficiently supported in the country. Flying armed drones in the country may give local militants something to think about.
With up to 800 U.S. soldiers in Niger, the U.S. military had been operating unarmed drones in the country for many years. With the October 4 ambush, there was increasing pressure on U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser to increase drone attack capabilities. According to him, he will be adding more armored vehicles to AFRICOM forces, raising the firepower troops carry and using drones more often.
The armed drones are MQ-9 Reapers. The U.S. military has used MQ-9 Reaper drones to fly combat missions in southern Afghanistan, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The appearance of armed MQ-9 Reaper drones in Niger was warmly received by Niger Defense Minister Kalla Mountari who welcomed the idea, saying “they (the U.S.) have answered our call.” He said the use of armed drones in Niger will deter stubborn terrorists.
“Unlike before when they (extremists) attack and disappear, knowing we don’t have the means of pursuing them, now they would be hunted and taken out from above,” Mountari said.
AFRICOM’s armed surveillance mission is currently being operated at a military base in Niamey, the country capital. But the mission will later move to another base that is currently undergoing construction in Agadez, central Niger. The base will be known as Air Base 201.
AFRICOM spokesman Maj. Karl Wiest said various extremist groups are operating in Niger and the entire region, but they don’t constitute a direct threat to the U.S. at the moment. However, he believed they must be kept in check to deter them from becoming too powerful in the region or becoming a concern to the U.S.
“Niger is in a strategic location surrounded on three fronts by terrorist organizations based in Libya, Mali, and Nigeria,” said Maj. Karl Wiest. “We secure national strategic interests in Niger by working by, with, and through allies and partners to deny safe havens to terrorists with global reach.”