Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, is looking for some serious help. He’s governing what he calls a “dirt poor” country with ruthless bandits, terrorists, and smugglers overwhelming his northern and eastern parts of the country. In addition, a famine is already affecting 15 million of his citizenry, and will reach critical mass in a matter of months.
Mr. Issoufou is looking. He sees the potential and salvation his country would benefit from in the ever-present stream of potential foreign investors willing to drop massive amounts of money into his very own government’s starving budget. Petrolin, Shell, and Maersk all are chomping at the bit to develop the Niger Delta and further, but there’s a security problem, a fundamentalist problem.
How does Issoufou stabilize his country and ensure safety and security of all that foreign money? Simple, he denounces al-Qaeda in Maghreb and allows the American Global War on Terrorism into Niger.
Born in 1952 in Dandaji, French West Africa, Mr. Issoufou began his career as an engineer, and served as National Director for Mines from 1980 to 1985. Shortly after 1985, he was appointed to Secretary General of the Mining Company of Niger, or Societe des Mines de l Air, with which he maintains a healthy relationship to this day.
Interestingly, SOMAIR’s main purpose is to oversee uranium mining, specifically in the cities of Arlit and Akokan. Arlit, you may remember, was attacked by elements of The Masked Brigade along with a small group of fighters from Boko Haram in 2009, resulting in a hostage crisis at the plant. This resulted in French Special Forces retaking the plant with sizeable civilian casualties. The second city is Akokan, which has doubled its security since the 2009 attack, and which has received threats from a unified front of al-Qaeda affiliated and endorsed terror organizations in and around the Sahel, which is reportedly under the command of the emirate Mokhtar Belmoktar.
Issoufou ran for president twice in his political career. The first was in late 1999, when he lost to Tandja Mamadou. Tandja lost favor with Niger’s parliament when he decided it was time for a new constitution, one where he could stick around and be a dictator and such. During the political dispute, Tandja assumed emergency power over the current government in yet another coup d’etat, an all too familiar act from Niger’s leaders. Issoufou was arrested several times for his outspoken opposition to Tandja. Issoufou stayed strong and led his Nigerian Party for Democracy and Socialism to its presidential victory shortly after the ousting of Tandja in a military coup in February, 2010.
Niger’s economy is based largely on subsistence farming, crude oil exports, and one of the world’s largest uranium deposits. But this wasn’t enough to keep the government functioning, so Niger began relying heavily on foreign aid due to consistently ranking near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index, along with an equally troubling Gross National Product. But then you add in almost back-to-back coup d’états resulting in dangerous political and military instability. The investment within that environment shrinks, foreign aid agencies get skittish and those “aid” people stop providing foreign aid.
Added to that is the drought cycle, which is pushing an increase in desertification, which means a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry land region becomes hotter, and results in vegetative growth reduction and death and drying of massive bodies of water. The real icing on the yellow cake is literally a huge, if you can believe it, drop in global uranium demand. It’s almost too much for a small country to bear, which is why on Sept 18, 2013, after consulting with Mahamadou Issoufou, Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum welcomed Reapers and their Hellfires into Niger.
Diffa, Niger is not unlike our own version of Mos Eisley. It’s known for harboring some of the most ruthless cutthroat bandits in the West African region. Diffa has been a transient station for Tureg tribesmen once loyal to Gaddafi and his Libya. This is reportedly where Boko Haram, The Masked Brigade, Ansur Dine, MOJWA, and the like, have been smuggling drugs and humans along with weapons of all calibers and size coming out of Libya, liberated by the Tureg tribe faithful on their way home to Gao, Mali.
Diffa is more than a sure bet prime hunting grounds for those flat grey metal birds in the sky that will soon be armed and ready for the kill/death algorithm green light to let their payload free.
But why a small border town called Diffa?
This city has a sordid, troubled past that goes several decades back. It was a refugee camp for more than 4,000 Arab Mahamid tribesmen following a devastating drought in Eastern Chad in 1973. More tribesmen followed suit and arrived in Diffa in 1980 to escape a brutal civil being waged in Chad, making it one of the most dangerous places to live in the world.
Then in 2006, in a sudden turn of events brought on by political struggles, Niger declared all 4,000 Mahamid tribesmen a threat to national security and their presence “untenable” because of increased “quarrels” with local Nigerian inhabitants. Niger’s plan was to repatriate them back into Chad and surrounding countries. This was met with a local parliamentary resistance, then a short time later, global outcry. The Arab community, along with UN High Commissioner for Refugees, denounced Niger’s governments planned actions calling the decision “extremely dangerous…it will fuel the hatred between ethnic communities in Diffa and will lead inevitably to a widespread conflict whose wounds will take time to heal.” So much scrutiny was on then-President Tandja Mamadou, that he shelved the whole thing altogether and the Mahamid tribe was allowed to stay. But the resentment and judgment stayed within the Arab community in Diffa.
Diffa is truly a smuggler’s city. Located in eastern Niger, it has several roads coming into and out of this border town. If one were so inclined, one could take the road west to Zinder, keep going and one would reach Naimey or head north to Tahoua, stay with trusted friends, and in the morning head west along the border road N25 to Abala. There one could bask in the warmth of sun reflecting off the dark brown waters of the Dallol Bosso. And later that evening, a person could head west again onto the N24 this time or take a boat north and disembark at an unknown or unchecked boat ramp, find some chai in Menaka, Mali and discuss the logistics of the final 260 kilometers into Gao. With so many options and rarely another soul for kilometers, one can only imagine how many men, weapons, drugs, hostages, and “other” flows through this network of main, secondary, and trail passageways, all leading west, all leading to Gao. It’s suspected that Boko Haram’s now-living and smiling leader, Abubakar Shekau, was smuggled along Niger’s northern border towns from Gao, Mali to Cameroon, for (as we now know) medical treatment of his gunshot wounds from a run-in with Nigerian SOF.
I’m a world away from Diffa, yet I can almost hear the “druuhhmmmmm” of the UAV umbrella beginning to open up above Niger. And as the first of many Hellfire AGM-114 IIs are loaded onto a Reaper, plugged into its onboard datacomport link to calibrate targeting, tracking, guidance uplinks with the Dell mainframe in a well-lit comfortable building with massive screens being fed live feeds from the unmanned aerial vehicle pilot’s “jumpseat,” all systems reading nominal on the screen of the pilot’s bank of flat screen monitors propped up in front of him, I begin to wonder how many innocent lives will be affected by this.
And as our pilot’s armed drone reaches mission altitude and confirms its “loiter” waypoints above Diffa, I think to myself, “Will the children of Diffa go to sleep at night in fear?”
He adjusts his Air Force issue flight suit around his cuff; he has been approved for “kill on site.” Will we, as Americans, ever really hear about our drone strike operations over such a poor, unknown country?
Target has been confirmed for our pilot with a high percentage of an actual HVT in a vehicle heading west into small village south of Diffa. Blast radius lethal strike algorithm equation is plugged in and the strike is approved for a “go” with acceptable numbers of collateral damage. Watch commander sends an intranetwork “green light” to the drone pilot, and with a push of a plastic, formed video game-style trigger on a joystick, an electrical impulse triggers a chemical reaction within the rocket. GPS and targeting guidance system within the “eye” of the nose cone acquire the laser locked-on target and just as advertised, the weapon is released, fired and forgotten.
And as its “CRACK BOOM,” followed by the high-pitched shriek of its afterburners are just barely heard before the 10 to 20 seconds it takes to travel to its target, I wonder, “Are we creating another Yemen?” The impact is flawless, as the equal parts of Newtons Law, chemical, and technological reactions take place and the birth of kinetic death is brought forth unto its victims. The blast radius expands, creating overpressure and releasing metal, wood and flesh from its otherwise normal spots, and turns them into projectiles for further destruction. The screen of Kill TV is obscured by ScanEagle’s thermal imagery making the plume of hot smoke and fire from the crater an oddly brilliant black and white.
The pilot reports, “Pale Rider 22 confirming impact of ordinance, ascending to loiter waypoint Alpha.” Depressing a secondary button commands a program to run a cursory series of pictures of the target area for an after-action battle damage report to be classified SECRET/NOFORN. All this is done miles above, as the bewildered moans and grunts from the shock of what just happened begin turning to shouts and screams of pain and sorrow and rage. The now-smoldering image back at FOB Niger drone tactical operations command (TOC) only shows the white-hot thermal remains of metal and flesh as it burns and spreads. “Roger pale Rider 22, target adjudicated, confirm successful strike, move to loiter altitude Bravo and observe follow on.”
And death followed with him…
(Featured Image Courtesy: Stripes.com)
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