The U.S. is preparing to evacuate two critical drone and counter-terror bases in Niger if needed due to the new junta in the country, as stated by the Air Force commander for Africa on Friday.
In light of this, the planning involves identifying potential U.S.-allied countries within the Saharan and Sahel regions, known for high activity by al-Qaida and Islamic State-affiliated extremist groups, “that we could maybe partner up with, and then move our assets there,” Air Force Gen. James Hecker told reporters in Washington.
The head of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa stated that preparations are underway for potential scenarios requiring about 1,100 U.S. troops to vacate two crucial airbases supporting American counterterrorism operations.
Hecker emphasized that the Biden administration has not decided if the Niger military’s July 26 coup, which removed the democratically elected president, will force U.S. diplomats or security forces to exit the country.
“We will be ready if something happens,” General James Hecker said during a virtual briefing with members of the Defense Writers Group.
“There are many hypotheticals we can come up with why and if we should evacuate,” he said. “We just have to be prepared for all of them … of course, we are hoping we use none,” as VOA cited.
Amid ongoing concerns, U.S. officials have been issuing warnings that they might withdraw support from Niger unless the military faction responsible for the recent removal of President Mohamed Bazoum reinstates him to power.
Despite the warnings, the U.S. has refrained from labelling the situation in Niger as a coup, a term that could significantly impact the existing military collaboration.
A coup designation “certainly changes what we can do in the region and how we would partner with the Nigerien military,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters earlier this week.
“We have been very clear it certainly looks like an attempted coup,” she said. “Niger is quite a critical partner to us in the region, and so we are hopeful that we can diplomatically resolve this.”
About 1,100 U.S. troops are stationed in Niger, engaged in counterterrorism operations targeting al-Qaida and Islamic State group affiliates.
Most troops are based at Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger’s desert-edge city, and Air Base 101 in Niamey’s capital.
The $110 million Air Base 201, constructed by the U.S., has played a crucial role in the counterterrorism mission, operating MQ-9 Reapers for drone flights since 2019.