Niger has reportedly received six Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones as part of an arms contract signed in November 2021. The agreement also includes Hurkus light attack aircraft and armored vehicles. Niger’s government hopes the drone purchases will help in its fight against the Islamic State and al Qaeda-affiliated groups operating within the tri-border area with Mali and Burkina Faso.
Niger has been a key ally for European partners in the fight against terrorism, following the ousting of France and its allies from Mali by that country’s military junta. In February, French President Emmanuel Macron noted on the sidelines of the European Union-African Union summit, “The heart of this military operation will no longer be in Mali but in Niger … and perhaps in a more balanced way across all the countries of the region that want this [security help].” Niger is now a crucial base for French support and redeployed German military operations to counter jihadis.
Since 2015, fighting from Mali has spilled into Niger’s border region, while militants from Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province, and armed bandits have spread from Nigeria into the Sahel region. But international cooperation is waning. The G5 Sahel Joint Force created in 2017 includes Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad, and Mali, although the latter withdrew on May 15 amid tensions with France. The force has not convened a high-level political meeting since November 2021, and three of its member states have had military coups.
Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who took office last year, has tried to position his country as a model for international cooperation in beating back jihadis after Mali shut down France’s Operation Barkhane on its territory and the EU-led Operation Takuba was suspended there.
Development of an air base in Niger to accommodate Turkish drones is already under consideration, according to a report from Radio France Internationale. It comes as Nigeria’s authorities purchased 10 small tactical Songar armed drones from Turkey to help in the fight against Boko Haram and other insurgents.
Foreign Policy reported in December that Turkish officials were looking to form closer ties with Nigeria on defense through the purchase of drones. Turkish technology would “surely quicken the process and efforts to rid the country of pockets of terrorists,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s media aide stated at the time.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has positioned his country over the last decade as a key ally in Africa while looking to expand Turkey’s military and diplomatic footprint. Turkey built one of the largest military bases in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in 2017. It signed military cooperation agreements with Togo in August 2021 and with Senegal in February 2022.
The Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, which took place in December 2021, was attended by Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also chairperson of the African Union, and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, currently the chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Turkey’s trade with Africa rose to $25.3 billion in 2020, compared with just $5.4 billion in 2003. The value of projects given to Turkish contracting companies in Africa reached $71.1 billion in 2021.
Drones manufactured by a company whose chief technology officer is Erdogan’s son-in-law have played a strong role in projecting Turkey’s power globally. The TB2 is a spectacular propaganda machine.” Bayraktar drones were used by Ukraine days after Russia’s invasion, and they have decisively influenced the outcome in the Libyan civil war. Some analysts believe Turkish drones reversed the Ethiopian government’s losses and helped it beat back Tigrayan rebels who were advancing on the capital, Addis Ababa, last year.