In the wake of a recent coup in Niger, the United States and France are actively exploring alternative countries to host their drone bases for counter-terrorism and surveillance missions. The coup in the West African nation has led to a significant reevaluation of their military presence in the region.
General James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, stated, “There are several locations I’ll say that we’re looking at, but nothing’s firmed up. We have talked to some countries about it.” While the U.S. is actively considering new host nations, they are also closely monitoring ongoing diplomatic efforts to address the situation, as a peaceful resolution is a preferred outcome.
The U.S. recently declared the removal of Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum as a coup, which could result in the discontinuation of military assistance to the country. This would have significant implications for U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Africa. After the July coup, the U.S. temporarily halted drone operations but has recently managed to resume a portion of these missions, primarily focused on ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) flights for force protection rather than direct counter-terrorism activities.
The effectiveness of these resumed missions has been somewhat compromised due to the necessity to relocate equipment and personnel from Air Base 101 near the capital of Niamey to Air Base 201, which is situated farther from the coup-affected area. This change in location has reduced the duration of missions and, consequently, the amount of data gathered.
Nigérien Air Base 201,” was constructed at a considerable cost of $110 million, featuring a 6,200-foot runway tailored to accommodate MQ-9 Reapers, MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and manned aircraft. Since its inauguration in November 2019, the base has played a pivotal role in the U.S. military’s surveillance and intelligence operations in the region.
In 2018, the United States started arming its fleet of MQ-9 Drones stationed in the West African nation of Niger. The MQ-9 Reapers have sufficient range to strike targets all over West Africa and North African countries, a reality which is unsettling to defense planners in the region.
For France, the coup has forced them to find a new mission for their MQ-9 Reapers from the 33rd Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Attack Wing of the French Air Force. These drones had played a crucial role in Operation Barkhane, which officially ended following the coup.
The relationship between France and Niger’s military junta quickly deteriorated after the coup, as the junta called for the swift departure of French forces. Around 1,500 French troops were stationed at three bases in Niger as part of France’s broader efforts to combat jihadist groups in the Sahel region. Paris has been a steadfast supporter of President Mohamed Bazoum, and the coup was declared “illegitimate” by France. This dispute escalated to the point where the junta demanded the French ambassador’s expulsion within 48 hours, and France rejected their authority to make such demands.
The coup represents a significant setback for French influence in the region, following military takeovers in Mali in 2020 and Burkina Faso in 2022. In response, France has made strategic moves to strengthen its intelligence capabilities, including the deployment of AAE VADOR drones at its Cognac airbase in France.
France is also considering the Middle East as a potential location for their future drone missions, building on their existing deployment of drones at the planned H5 Air Base in Jordan. These changes signal a shift in the dynamics of counter-terrorism and surveillance missions in the region, as the U.S. and France adapt to new geopolitical realities following the coup in Niger.
On its own, Nigér recently took delivery of six brand new Bayraktar TB2 armed drone from Turkey to boost its counter-terror operations. The Bayraktar TB2 drones were received in Niamey airport in May last year, before they were moved to a more permanent airbase that can accommodate them.