Sometime around the middle of 2019, while apparently conducting a training exercise, a USA military vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb somewhere in Niger. The US military reported that no one was injured.

While most media didn't bat as much as an eyelid, the incident immediately reminded me of something I, and I suspect many people who've been paying attention, had forgotten.

Specifically, Niger is home to the world’s largest drone base, and it is being built by the USA at a whopping cost of over $100 million and will cost approximately $15 million annually to maintain. I actually discovered this by mistake when I cross-checked with others who were investigating the heat maps that Strava had unintentionally leaked on the Internet.

Aerial satellite image view of the area where the USA is building the world's largest drone base in Niger.

The world's largest military drone base

The report of the military vehicle being hit by a bomb in Niger, just like that of the drone base, is odd for several reasons. One of which is that there is no ongoing war in Niger, there’s also not much in Niger.

Despite being the largest country in West Africa if you look at the land it covers, 80% of Niger is made up of the Sahara Desert with a population of 21 million. It is by no means a powerhouse on the African continent and is often confused with Nigeria by those not too familiar with geography.

So, why is the USA building the world’s largest robot army base in the middle of the Sahara Desert?

It depends on who you listen to.

What's really happening in Niger?


There’s the official line (which is at best equivocation) which says that the main reason for the base is to be able to quickly execute drone attacks against terrorist groups in the region such as Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, etc. However, surely a $100 million drone base is a bit of an overkill for such a task considering that the terrorist groups barely have a few hundred soldiers in any one area, nevermind advanced weaponry?

There’s also the unofficial line that says that the USA is building the base specifically to gather intelligence on Chinese operations, especially mines, in the region. To be specific, uranium ore mines.

There’s also the other opinion which takes a look at countries that surround Niger; you have Libya to the northeast, Chad to the east, Nigeria to the south, Benin to the southwest, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, and Algeria to the northwest. Most of them quite key when it comes to natural resources as well as politics on the continent.

Niger's addax antelopes are facing extinction. Thomas Rabeil/Shara Conservation Fund

To make matters more interesting, a French company called Noe has been awarded a 20-year contract to supply drones and any associated services relating to operating the drones and monitoring endangered animals in Niger, especially in the Sahara Desert. I have no doubt that we need to preserve the almost extinct addax antelopes, but again, just like the gigantic drone base the USA is building in Niger, is it necessary to have a 20-year drone contract awarded to a French company for wildlife conservation?

I wonder.

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