U.S. Africa Command is hoping to finish two new air bases in 2019, one in Niger and one in Somalia, to stage operations against militants in the region.
Niger Air Base 201, a future hub for armed drones and other aircraft, was supposed to be completed last year. The region’s difficult weather and harsh conditions are pushing completion back to the middle of 2019, officials told Air Force Times.
Air Base 201 will eventually house the U.S. armed drone mission in Niger that currently operates out of Niger’s capital, Niamey.
In the Lower Shabelle region of southern Somalia, a former Soviet-built air base called Camp Baledogle is being refurbished and converted to better handle the evolving multinational mission in the country.
“The runway repairs were just contracted this fall, and are not scheduled to be completed until later in 2019,” Air Force Maj. Karl Wiest, an AFRICOM spokesman, said.
AFRICOM confirmed that it operates the facilities at Camp Baledogle alongside African partners, but remained scant on details regarding what aircraft are planned to fly from there.
Camp Baledogle’s runway will be 10,092 feet lomg, 140 feet wide and made of asphalt, according to Mike Andrews, the public affairs director for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, which executed the military construction contract. Those dimensions will be able to support virtually all aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory.
“The runway is still being utilized for limited operations,” Wiest said. “Also, there are some other projects underway at Camp Baledogle, such as mitigation efforts to improve camp drainage as a result of rainfall events, improvements to force protection measures, as well as regular camp refurbishment resulting from normal wear and tear of facilities.”
Somalia has become a growth point for AFRICOM, as the combatant command conducts airstrikes and ground operations against al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants in the country.
The U.S. has carried out more than 30 airstrikes this year in Somalia. American involvement in the country has grown since President Donald Trump early in his term approved expanded operations against al-Shabab. Since then, two U.S. military personnel have been killed in Somalia.
The Pentagon fields about 7,200 troops in Africa, but plans to cut about 10 percent of those forces over the next few years in an effort to realign priorities in an era of great power competition. AFRICOM officials do not expect those cuts to impact the new air bases.