Niger to set up air force base in troubled southeast

AGADEZ, NIGER - OCTOBER 8: Armed soldiers of the Niger National Guard protect a convoy crossing the Sahara Desert from Niger north to Libya, often with Nigerien workers on overloaded trucks destined for work in mines, on October 8, 2018 in Agadez, Niger. Aside from civilian convoys, National Guard patrols hunt armed Islamists in this Sahel region half the size of Texas. In a bid to stem irregular migration from Africa to Europe, the EU is spending $270 million on an "Emergency Trust Fund" for programs in Niger, part of a security-development package that has seen the number of migrants heading north drop from 334,000 in 2016 to fewer than 50,000 in 2018. (Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)
File Photo: Armed soldiers of the Niger National Guard. (Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

Niger’s armed forces are to set up an airbase in the southeast of the country which is battling jihadist incursions from the Lake Chad region, the president’s office said on Friday.

The base, codenamed BA 501, will be established on a 32-square-kilometer (12-square-mile) site in the Diffa region, it said in a statement.

The facility “will strengthen the response capacity of the Nigerien armed forces in the light of the insecurity which currently prevails in the Sahel region, particularly in the Lake Chad basin area,” it said.

The arid Diffa region has been badly hit by attacks from Nigeria’s Boko Haram and its rival, the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) group.

Many of the jihadists hole up on islands in the vast lakelands, which straddle the borders of Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

The Diffa region also hosts around 300,000 people, many of them Nigerians, who have fled their homes.

The statement said the base was approved by the Council of Ministers. It did not say when construction would start or end, or give an idea of the cost.

The world’s poorest nation according to UN development rankings, Niger is also struggling against jihadists on its western flank with Mali, with armed militants claiming affiliation to the Islamic State group and Al Qaeda.

The Sahel state is backed by several western countries. France and the United States have military bases where they have deployed drones, while Germany has a logistics base.