US-Constructed Air Base in Niger Begins Operations

The new U.S.-constructed air base in Agadez, Niger, is now fully operational, carrying out its first unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights this week, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) told VOA Friday.

“We are working with our African and international partners to counter security threats in West Africa. The construction of this base demonstrates our investment in our African partners and mutual security interests in the region,” said Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command.

The U.S. Air Force has said the $110 million airfield is one of the harshest locations from which the military operates. The facility, dubbed Air Base 201, was finished earlier this year after several delays caused in part by the challenges of working in a remote desert.

“I would say that the construction of Air Base 201 will go down as one of the most Herculean efforts in the history of the United States Air Force,” Brig. Gen. Michael Rawls, who commands the Air Force’s 435th Air Expeditionary Wing in Africa, said earlier this year.

Niger and its neighbors have been battling several militants in the region, including Islamic State.

The U.S. military has flown drones from Niger’s capital, Niamey, but set up the new base in Agadez to extend the reach of its surveillance and reconnaissance missions in the volatile Lake Chad Basin area of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, according to a U.S. defense official.

The Agadez base is controlled by Nigerien forces, but the U.S. military has exclusive rights to about 20 percent of the compound’s roughly 15-km perimeter.

The base hosts hundreds of U.S. airmen and an undisclosed number of U.S. aircraft.