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Project February 18, 2018

An American War in the Sahara


Image by Joe Penney.
Image by Joe Penney.
After American and Nigerian troops were killed in an ambush in the small village of Tongo Tongo in southwestern Niger in October 2017, the secretive U.S. military presence in Niger emerged at the forefront of American politics. There are currently 800 American troops stationed in the Saharan country, who are supposed to be simply advising the host country's soldiers in their fight against terrorism.

The Pentagon is currently expanding operations in Niger by building a $100 million drone base in the northern town of Agadez, which would be its second-largest base in Africa. Such a commitment in Agadez, the last major town before entering the Sahara Desert and a strategic point to track jihadist militants in northern Mali, southern Libya, and northeastern Nigeria, marks a significant increase in American military engagement in West Africa. The construction of the base will greatly impact the politics and economy of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, and change the landscape of Agadez for the foreseeable future.

Although both the U.S. and the Nigerian authorities have publicly stated that Niger invited the U.S. to build the Agadez base, the secrecy surrounding U.S. and European military construction in the country has led top-ranking Nigerian military officers, politicians, and civil society leaders to privately and publicly question American and Western motives. This article investigates the base's implications for Niger's political, social, and economic landscape as well as for American policy in the region.


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War and Conflict