Tag Archives: Reaper

Like Afghanistan, Like Niger?

Agadez Niger

On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the U.S. Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America’s battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa’s vast Sahel region.  Three hangars and the first layers of a runway command a sandy, barren field. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional in 2019. The base, a few miles outside Agadez and built at the request of Niger’s government, 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.

Few knew of the American military’s presence in this desperately poor, remote West African country until October 2018, when an ambush by Islamic State group-linked extremists killed four U.S. soldiers and five Nigeriens.

The $110 million project is the largest troop labor construction project in U.S. history, according to Air Force officials. It will cost $15 million annually to operate…. Already the U.S. military presence here is the second largest in Africa behind the sole permanent U.S. base on the continent, in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.  “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,” said Amadou Roufai, a Nigerien administration official.  Civic leader Nouhou Mahamadou also expressed concerns.

“The presence of foreign bases in general and American in particular is a serious surrender of our sovereignty and a serious attack on the morale of the Nigerien military,” he said.

The number of U.S. military personnel in Niger has risen over the past few years from 100 to 800, the second largest concentration in Africa after the 4,000 in Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. About 500 personnel are working on the new air and drone base and the base camp is marked with an American and Nigerien flag.

Excerpts  from Carley Petesch, US Builds Drone Base in Niger, Crossroads of Extremism Fight, Associated Press, April, 23, 2018

Raw Drones

The United States and Britain are the biggest users of drones in Afghanistan with a fleet of unmanned reconnaissance vehicles and hunter-killers.  Both air forces have made thousands of sorties. The U.S. has used MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones to attack insurgent homes and training grounds in North Waziristan, Pakistan, where there are reports of a high number of civilian casualties.  Recently, the Royal Air Force announced that it was forming a dedicated UAV squadron to pilot a fleet of 10 U.S.-designed Reaper attack drones. The Reaper is capable of carrying up to 14 Hellfire missiles and smart bombs. It can stay airborne for up to 28 hours and climb to more than 7,500 metres.

Both the American and British UAV squads control their Afghanistan missions from a bunker in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The U.K. Reapers have flown 23,400 hours and fired 176 missiles and laser-guided bombs. The United States has reportedly launched more than 250 attacks since 2004 in Pakistan alone.

A rising concern is civilian deaths.  On March 24, a U.K. Reaper killed four Afghan civilians and injured two others when it attacked two pickup trucks in Helmand province. The trucks contained explosives but an investigation into the attack revealed they were also carrying civilians.  So-called friendly fire, which is always a problem in war, may be increased with drones. In April, a U.S. Predator drone killed a U.S. Marine and a Navy medic in Helmand province with a missile when they were mistaken for insurgents. Several years ago, a fully armed U.S. drone went haywire and started flying toward Tajikistan. The U.S. air force scrambled a manned fighter and shot it down just before it reached the border.

Attack drones have proved effective in following armed insurgents to their hiding places and then killing them with missiles.  In one case, a U.S. drone tracked insurgents to a hole in a mud wall from where they fired on coalition forces. The drone destroyed the wall with a missile, killing the insurgents.

Civilian casualties a concern with drones, Vancouver Sun, July 23, 2011