There are strong indications that the United States government may launch attacks against Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East, as a drone base being constructed in the Niger Republic would soon be completed.
According to reports, the American drone base is under construction in Agadez, a town in Niger.
The facility is expected to offer US military, greater ability to use drones against Islamist extremists in countries like Libya, Mali and Nigeria.
But some security experts told SUNDAY PUNCH that such drone attacks against insurgents in the North might kill innocent people.
The project, considered to be the United State’s most important military construction effort in Africa, according to secret files obtained by an online medium, The Intercept, will gulp $100m.
The construction of the base is an indication that the US is paying more attention to terrorist groups in Nigeria and other countries on the African continent.
“As the only country in the region willing to allow a US base for MQ-9 Reapers — a newer, larger, and potentially more lethal model than the venerable Predator drone — Niger has positioned itself to be the key regional hub for US military operations, with Agadez serving as the premier outpost for launching intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions against a plethora of terror groups,” The Intercept said.
The Americans have for years operated an air base in Niamey, Niger’s capital, but in September 2014 the US African Command announced plans to build a drone facility for “Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.”
The documents obtained by The Intercept and made available online stated, “The top MILCON [military construction] project for USAFRICOM is located in Agadez, Niger to construct a C-17 and MQ-9 capable airfield.
“Remotely Piloted Aircraft presence in Africa supports operations against seven (Department of State)-designated foreign terrorist organisations.
“Moving operations to Agadez aligns persistent ISR to current and emerging threats over Niger and Chad, supports French regionalisation and extends range to cover Libya and Nigeria.”
Reacting to the development, a member of the American Society of Industrial Security, Prof. Femi Adegbulu, told SUNDAY PUNCH that there was a possibility of collateral damage, should the US launch drone attacks against Boko Haram in the North.
He said, “There are two sets of drones, one for surveillance and the other for attacks. A reconnaissance drone is used for intelligence gathering, while the other kind of drone is used for attacks. There is no 100 per cent accuracy in warfare.
“You lose lives, money, time, and resources. The possibility of collateral damage cannot be ruled out, especially since Boko Haram terrorists are known to use humans as shields when attacked.”
Similarly, a former Director, Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, told one of our correspondents that he was concerned about the US military’s plan to launch attacks against Boko Haram from Niger.
“I am worried that the US military will be making such efforts to launch attacks against Boko Haram from outside Nigeria. If the US did not get the nod from the Federal Government to establish its drone base in the country, how could the US military launch attacks against Boko Haram from Niger Republic?”
When the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Charles Nwodo, was contacted at 3pm, he asked one of our correspondents to give him till 6pm to respond to the story.
However, when he was called again at 6pm, he did not pick the calls placed to his telephone line. Also, Nwodo had yet responded to a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
Army releases 348 suspected Boko Haram detainees
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army on Saturday freed 348 suspected Boko Haram members as a gesture to celebrate the country’s 56th Independence anniversary.
The detainees included 114 male, 107 female and 127 children.
They were handed over to the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, at the Ramat Square, Maiduguri by the acting General Officer Commanding, the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. Victor Ezegwu.
Ezegwu explained that the suspects were arrested at various camps and havens of the insurgents in Borno State.
He said they were investigated and found to be innocent of involvement in insurgency.
He also said 115 out of the 127 children among the suspected insurgents were between the ages of five and 10, while 12 of them were 11 years and above.
He however, said some suspects, including six foreigners who illegally entered Nigeria, would be prosecuted.
He added that the suspected insurgents had been handed over to the Police and the Department of State Services.
He said the foreigners comprised of four Cameroonians, a Chadian and a Jamaican, who would be separately handed over to the Nigerian Immigration Service for deportation.