Tag Archives: Niamey Niger

Favorite of the West: Niger as Police State

Niger Soluxe hotel

Niger, a poverty-stricken nation perched on the southern belt of the Sahara, is rapidly being transformed into one of the world’s most strategic security hubs….“This place is a nest of spies,” said one contractor … “Below the radar, it’s become a key country for the West.”  A surge in financial assistance from European nations seeking to stem the flow of African migrants has made Niger the world’s largest per capita recipient of European Union aid…Western military forces operate from at least nine bases in Niger, government officials said…. The U.S. is finishing a large air base in Agadez, while the Central Intelligence Agency has begun flying armed drones from an airstrip outside the northern town of Dirkou, Nigerien officials said.

U.S. and European policy makers praise the government as a good partner that has welcomed foreign military personnel and slashed the migrant flow by almost 90% from 2015 highs. …Locals, nongovernmental organizations and opposition activists say the government is using international backing to neutralize dissent and embezzle millions of dollars in aid, charges the government denies. The opposition—backed by rights group Amnesty International—says President Mahamadou Idriss Issoufou, in power since 2011, is arbitrarily jailing activists and spending Western aid on bolstering his elite Presidential Guard…

Swaths of the nation’s centuries-old transportation economy—the movement of people and goods from West Africa through the Sahara—has essentially been criminalized by the EU crackdown on migration.  Some of the desert-dwelling Tuareg people, who have transported goods for centuries, are now smuggling weapons, men and money for cash-rich jihadist insurgencies. Migrants are dying in the desert in failed attempts to find new routes.

“The West is pleased because Niger’s government is a willing partner,but as Niger’s security chief, Mohammed Bazoum, says “We have become a hinge country, a geostrategic hub, but it is a disaster for us. We are known as a land of terrorism and migrant traffic.”

Across Niger’s western border with Mali, jihadist groups including Islamic State and al Qaeda franchises control stretches of territory around the northern city of Gao. Along the southern frontier with Nigeria, a rejuvenated Boko Haram is mounting intensifying attacks against security forces, including around the city of Diffa, where the U.S. has dozens of troops stationed. To the north lies Libya, which has become a hotbed of instability, weapons and radicalization.

The European Development Fund last year awarded $1 billion to Niger through 2020, and unusually for a country governance watchdogs deem chronically corrupt, 75% is now infused directly into the Nigerien budget instead of through nongovernmental organizations.The money funds hundreds of off-road vehicles, motorcycles and satellite phones for Nigerien security forces as well as new infrastructure and technology along the borders and countrywide development programs.

In Niamey’s central Plateau district, tall black screens block the soaring new U.S. Embassy headquarters, which will be one of the largest in West Africa. Saudi Arabia has broken ground on its own huge mission, while buildings belonging to EU agencies occupy whole city blocks. Hotels and conference centers are rising in tandem, reconfiguring the economic and political landscape of a nation ranked the world’s second-poorest behind the Central African Republic.

The government says the building boom is creating jobs. Locals say it has stoked runaway inflation and priced them out of their neighborhoods. In the past year, the cost of a kilogram of rice has risen 29%, sending shock waves through homes where the average wage is $2.66 a day.

“The cost to live here rises with each new European coming,” lamented Abdulraham Mamoudou, repairing his motor scooter on a dusty corner near the expanding U.S. Embassy compound.

A similar pattern is playing out further north in the smuggling hub of Agadez, where the EU-coordinated migration crackdown has transformed a boomtown into a simmering bust.  The city’s jails are bursting with men who have been convicted of smuggling. Vast depots on the town’s outskirts house hundreds of trucks confiscated by authorities…“This place is now for the Americans and French,” said Sadiq, a former migrant smuggler who evaded arrest and is now unemployed. “They took our livelihood and don’t give us anything in return.”

Excerpts from ‘A Nest of Spies’: Niger’s Deserts Become Front Line of Fight Against Jihadis, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 2018

United States Special Operations in 30 African Countries

burkina faso

The United States Army’s Transportation Command (US-TRANSCOM) is looking for private flight contractors to transport commandos from the Joint Special Taskforce Trans-Sahara as they conduct ‘high risk activities’ in 31 African countries.The pre-solicitation notice, issued by the US-TRANSCOM on 1 April, says the contractor will need to conduct air drops, fly commandos in and out of hostile territory and carry out short notice medical evacuation between 12 August 2013 and 27 June 2017. A 10.5 month base period will start in August this year to be followed by three one-year option periods.  [This is]  under the auspices of the US military’s Africa Command, under which the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara (JSOTF-TF) falls.

TRANSCOM is looking for aircraft able to carry at least six passengers and 2 500 pounds of cargo. From the US intelligence hub located in a military airfield in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso..…”Services shall be based at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, with services provided to, but not limited to, the recognized political boundaries of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda, as dictated by operational requirements. It is anticipated the most likely additional locations for missions from the above list would be to: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia,” the Transcom work statement reads.

The expansion of US commando operations is focused on confronting the threat posed by Sahelian and sub-Saharan terror groups which include Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which operate in nearly all north and north-west African countries. The operations are also aimed at confronting Al Qaeda inspired Nigerian Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and its more radical splinter movement Jamā atu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdān (Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa), better known as Ansaru.

In East and Central Africa, the US special forces operations will target renegade rebel groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony, Al Shabaab in Somalia, Islamic militant sleeper cells in the coastal areas of Kenya and Tanzania and various regional rebel groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In yet another sign of intensifying US military and security interest in Africa, the US Defence Logistics Agency on April 12 issued a request for bids to provide the US Air Force with 547,500 gallons of No. 2 diesel fuel “for ongoing deliveries to Niamey Airport, Niger, (Africa).“The fuel is intended for a fleet of unarmed US Predator drones which are presently flying intelligence and surveillance missions from a military airport in Niamey into Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Algeria and other suspected terrorist locations in the Sahel.

Since 2009, private flight contractors engaged by US special operations forces have been operating Pilatus PC-12s on intelligence gathering and image collection missions over Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and other Central African states from a small airport located near the Ugandan city of Entebbe. 

Excerpt, Oscar Nkala, US Army seeking private contractors for African commando transportation, www.defenceweb.co.z, May 7, 2013