AIR BADE 201, Agadez Niger. Riding from a barren stretch of African scrubland, a half-finished drone base represents the newest front line in America’s global shadow war. At its centre, hundreds of Air Force personnel are feverishly working to complete a $110 million air field that will be used to stalk or strike extremists deep into West Africa.
On the surface this might look like a welcome gesture for Nigerians, but herein lies the interesting fact. These four hastily built $110 million bases are being built after Boko Haram effectively no longer constitute the level of threat it once had. Heck they don’t even hold territory in Nigeria much less pose an existential threat to three of the regions strongest armies.
The bases were not built when it was needed, when Boko Haram held territory the size of Belgium, when 200 girls were kidnapped, when the Nigerian governments desperately sought international assistance, crawling on all fours pleading for weapons, when soldiers deserting en mass. Neither was it considered when the group outstriped ISIS to become the worlds deadliest terrorist group with the 66,000 sqr/km Sambisa forest as its impregnable fortress.
Neither was it even considered when 3,000 Nigerians were slaughtered but received little international attention on the same day of the Charlie Habdo attacks in Paris, which drew global sympathy with world leaders convergjng on Paris for a 2 million man March against ISIS.
Then in 2015 the Nigerian Army started making great strides against all expectations. Weapons such as attack drones secretely purchased from China and helicopter gunships, tanks and amoured vehicles Russia were beginning to make a profound impact in Nigeria’s military campaign.
Eight months into the Buhari administration nearly all Boko Haram controlled territory had been retaken by the Nigerian army with Boko Haram fighters retreating to the Sambisa forest. By 2017 the Sambisa forest has been taken with the fall of Camp Zero. In a symbolic gesture the Army Chief transformed what was once Fortress Boko Haram into a sporting complex and shooting range, where soldiers practice their marksmanship and holding sporting event.
That was the last straw. The rapidity of Nigeria’s military success provoked the Franco-American power into action.
The United States and France had suddenly become generous. Rushing the constriction of four drone bases with a price tag of $100 million apiece in places most American have never heard up. Military assistance with Chad. Diplomatic manoeuvres promising economic aid to West African countries that supports Morocco’s, (a North African country) bid for ECOWAS memberdhip, drone bases in Niger and Cameroon. Military cooperation with Ghana. All within the space of 12 months.
Then Army green berettes were deployed to Niger, Cameroon and Chad covertly. The death of 4 American Green Berets almost blew the lid off and had Americans questioning what the U.S was doing in West Africa. The force deployment and diplomatic posturing was done with disorienting speed.
Taken together, these parallel mission a reflect a larger undeclared American military build up outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, often with murky authorities and little public attention. West Africa is a long way from Afghanistan.
In Niger alone the Pentagon has since the fall of Sambisa tripled the number of Special Forces troops to about 1800. Not to conduct unilateral combat mission, but to battle an increasingly dangerous but largely defeated Boko Haram with regional autocrats and drone strikes?
The base in Niger and the more frequent flights that its opening will allow, will give the U.S far more situation awareness and intelligence on the region. They missed the secrete sale of CH-3 Rainow attack drones from China to the Nigeria. They certainly will not repeat the same mistake.
Few Americans are aware of the kind of military operations the United States is engAged in. In West Africa. It’s essential that the Nigerian and American public is aware of, engaged in and decides whether or not to support American militarization of a once economically prosperous and stable West Africa, with an unbelievable amount of resources, including the world’s largest uranium deposit in Niger and the worlds biggest proven oil reserve in Nigeria.
ECOWAS as a regional block has been outplayed by the poerrs thst be. It failed woefully and can no longer be viewed as credible after the admission of Morocco into the regional bloc and individual ECOWAS member countries making unilateral military agreements with world powers Independent.
We have seen the result of American drone strikes in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and even closer home in Sudan and Libya. As ECOWAS member states sell their sovereignty and encourage American commitment in West Africa it is only a matter of time before it falls victim America’s impulse. At that time it is hoped Nigeria would have been to weak to intervene using its economic and military might.
These assets are an insurance policy that’s very inexpensive, so long there is justification. If there is none, create one.
Building a new $110 million in a remote landlocked country nearly twice the size of Texas marks the latest chapter in America’s contentious history of drone operations around the world.
American drone strikes against militants in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and doubled in Somalia. Now the Americans are insisting there is ISIS in Nigeria, what will likely follow next is obvious.
In April, an armed drone flown from a second base in Niger killed a supposed ISIS militant leader in southern Libya for the first time, signalling a possible expansion of strikes there.
Those at the helm of affair in Abuja should be wary seeing enhanced American drone operations for surveillance, strikes etc. For peaceful Ghana the stakes are higher. Obsessed with the idea of usurping Nigeria diplomatically to have bragging rights, the Ghanaian government have unwittingly made itself a legitimate target for militants with its agreement to allow the U.S deploy and launch attacks from its territory. The potential devastating impact is distressing. U.S drone strikes from bases here will prove valuable in recruiting propaganda to an array of groups aligned with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and that could increase the militants menace.
A rare look at the Air Base 201, in Agadez Niger Republic, the largest construction project that Air Force engineers have ever undertaken alone reveals the scale of America’s investment in these facilities. I mean, we talking about a landlocked poor African country most Americans have never heard of. The challenges in building such a facility is immense. Commanders will grapple with swirling dust storms, scorching temperatures and lengthy spare part deliveries to fix broken equipment all conspired to put the project more than a year behind schedule and $22 million over its original budget,putting the overall price tag of a whooping $170 million.
This huge and incredibly expensive base , just two miles of Agadez makes it a high value target for terrorists, rather than protect them.
The Nigerian government should really start worrying after unconfirmed rumours that circulated that the dozens of dump trucks rumbling in and out of the heavily defended front gates each day were secretly stealing valuable uranium, for which Niger is renowned. France is the country with the most nuclear power plants in the world. Eighty percent of electricity in France is derived from nuclear power.
Suddenly we have the dynamics of Boko Haram, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, France, United States and now nuclear material on our very own backyard. The strategic landscape of West Africa today is totally unrecognizable from what it was even a decade ago. These are scary times.