The U.S. military stationed in Niger has resumed ISR flights for force protection as troops and assets are redeployed from the capital Niamey to Nigerien Air Base 201, Agadez. Photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III/U.S. Air Force/UPI
Sept. 14 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has resumed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in Niger for force protection, the Pentagon said, but counterterrorism and joint training operations that were put on hold following the ousting of the West African nation's civilian government in a coup 50 days ago have not been restarted.
The United States has some 1,100 soldiers stationed in Niger, which over recent years has grown as an important U.S. strategic partner in the Sahel region where insurgencies are common and Russia has a growing presence.
U.S. security cooperation in Niger includes military counterterrorism and peacekeeping assistance, including training and military exercises, which stopped after July 26 when the Niger government of President Mohamed Bazoum fell in a coup d'etat.
A week ago, it was announced that an undisclosed number of U.S. troops and assets in Niger were to be moved as a precaution from Air Base 101 in the capital Niamey some 570 miles northeast to Agadez city's Air Base 201.
Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed to reporters during a press conference Thursday that U.S. forces in Niger have received approvals from "appropriate authorities" to resume ISR flights, but in a force protection capacity, seemingly in connection to the troop movement.
"We can confirm that the U.S. forces in Niger commenced ISR flight ops to monitor for threats and for force protection," she said.
But she clarified that the U.S. military has not restarted counterterrorism operations or any security force assistance training with Niger.
"The U.S., I will say, always reserves the right to conduct operations to protect our forces and personnel."
Last week, Singh informed reporters of the redeployment of U.S. troops and assets from Air Base 101 in the capital Niamey some 570 miles northeast to Agadez city's Air Base 201, a facility Congress authorized the U.S. Air Force to build in 2019 and which hosts U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
She did not mention at the time the number of troops or assets, and on Thursday said the relocation was ongoing.
She also declined to state when the counterterrorism ISR flights restarted, but said that during the relocation process the Pentagon "felt it was appropriate to make sure that our forces are protected."
"Of course, we are wanting to make sure that our troops and our equipment is safe," she said.