Niger to set up protection force for ‘strategic’ sitesWed, 05 Jun 2024 12:57:07 GMT

Niger’s army says it is creating a special force to protect “strategic” sites, including uranium mines and oil wells, from “terrorist” attacks in the country plagued by jihadist violence since 2015.The new force aims to “better guarantee the protection of strategic sites and installations”, Colonel Mounkaila Sofiani, head of strategic studies within the defence ministry, announced on television late on Tuesday.”It’s about preventing acts of sabotage, terrorist attacks and all other security threats on sites of strategic interest,” he said, adding it was a response “to the pressing security needs”.The sites will include uranium mines in the north, oil wells in the north east and in particular a nearly 2,000-kilometre (1,200-mile) pipeline that runs from landlocked Niger’s oilfields to Benin’s Seme port on the Atlantic coast.Key routes for the import and export of goods such as the road linking Lome to Niamey via Ougadougou also feature on the list, Sofiani said.A recruitment drive will begin on July 1 to take on 10,000 soldiers and provide for the new force. By 2030, the armed forces aim to number 100,000 troops, the colonel said.Niger already announced plans four years ago to double the size of its army to 50,000 troops by 2025.The retirement age for certain soldiers was also rasied from 47 to 52 and thousands of recently retired servicemen have been re-recruited.Niger is ruled by military leaders who seized power in a July coup, citing a worsening security situation as justification for the power grab.It is grappling violence by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in the west near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.Niamey also faces violence by Boko Haram jihadists and their rivals Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) from the southeastern region of Diffa, near Nigeria.