NIAMEY, Niger -- Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass recently visited West Africa, marking the first time she has visited the region since assuming her position as the Air Force’s senior enlisted leader.
“Africa is an emerging front for strategic competition,” Bass said. “The United States, more than any other nation, can point to a strong history of partnership with African nations, and it’s gained us credibility as the preferred partner in Africa. A lot of that trust building is a result of our Airmen’s efforts.”
The U.S. has two cooperative security locations in Niger; Air Base 101, Niamey and Air Base 201, Agaedez. During her three-day visit, Bass met with U.S. Airmen and joint force mission partners to gain first-hand knowledge of how Airmen deter and defeat violent extremism in Sahel to enable a more secure, stable, and prosperous Africa.
“In 2020, the Sahel saw a 44-percent increase in violent events in the region,” said Col. Daniel Kobs, 409th Air Expeditionary Group commander. “The threat is real. Our partnerships in West Africa, now more than ever, are key to the counter-violent extremist organization fight. Our Airmen are critical to enabling our partner forces and building trust within the region.”
As one of two groups falling under the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing, the 409th Air Expeditionary Group supports intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, remotely piloted aircraft launch and recovery and base support for U.S. forces in Niger while working closely with and enabling their Nigerien Armed Forces counterparts.
“Our Airmen supporting our AFRICOM mission are incredible,” Bass said, “We’re asking them to think strategically and execute tactically while combating violent extremist operations, building partner capacity, and strengthening African security institutions to meet shared security goals. This is the human element at its finest, they are at the heart of this mission.”
While U.S. forces have been in Niger, on and off, for more than 20 years, the unique geographic and logistical challenges of Africa remain, demanding real time critical thinking and innovative solutions.
“The continent of Africa introduces a lot of unique operational challenges,” said Chief Master Sgt. Corey Crow, 435th Air Ground Operations Wing and 435th AEW command chief. “Whether its communications, air transportation, logistics, or things we’d think are simple such as potable water, our Airmen in Africa are constantly finding innovative solutions with limited resources to deliver secure, reliable, flexible expeditionary air power capabilities for combatant commanders.”
Airmen of the 435th AEW provide a critical piece of the U.S.’s whole-of-government approach which leverages diplomacy, development, and defense to support and enable capable, responsive African governments; an effort that has implications not only within Africa but worldwide.
“Global competitors recognize Africa’s importance to their strategic interests, but their interest is more akin to exploitation than mutual cooperation” Bass said. “Our Airmen in Niger have more than demonstrated U.S. commitment to helping our African partners create opportunities for economic and political stability and security. That’s a win and it's a credit to every Airman in Africa.”