Niger’s Air Force celebrated the return of a refurbished C-130H Hercules transport plane that will be used to carry materiel and troops to defend its borders.
U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and U.S. Ambassador to Niger Eric Whitaker presented the plane to Nigerien Defense Minister Issoufou Katambe and Chief of Defense Gen. Salifou Modi at Air Base 101 in Niamey earlier in January.
The ceremony marked the return of the plane to the Nigerien fleet after being repaired and refurbished. Capt. Ouma Laouali, Niger’s first female C-130 pilot, also took part in the event.
The aircraft expands Niger’s vital logistics capability, particularly in border regions where extremists are active. Niger shares borders with seven nations and is part of the G5 Sahel Joint Force that includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania. Niger also participates in peacekeeping missions in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Katambe recently recommended to Niger’s Parliament that the nation double the size of its military from 25,000 to 50,000 over the next five years as part of its ongoing battle with extremists such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram.
“The return of the aircraft to Niger, after a general overhaul carried out according to the strictest aeronautical norms and standards under the expertise of the U.S. Air Force, is the culmination of several years of efforts and the expression of the commitment of the state of Niger to equip our Army with the highest quality equipment,” Katambe said during the ceremony.
Niger will receive a second C-130 in the final months of this year, Katambe added. The C-130H plays a key role in airdropping troops and equipment in hostile areas. It can operate from underdeveloped landing strips and be quickly reconfigured to deliver various types of cargo, vehicles and personnel.
“As Niger endeavors to bring peace, security and stability to the region, I am certain the Nigerien Armed Forces, with the C-130 now rejoining the aviation fleet, will continue to establish itself as a model both for operational effectiveness on the battlefield and for the professionalism with which your Airmen and Soldiers display in and out of uniform,” Whitaker said during the ceremony.
Along with providing the C-130H, the U.S. has trained 16 Nigerien pilots and 31 support staff to operate the aircraft. It also has provided $17 million in upgrades, including a new C-130 hangar at Air Base 201 in Agadez in central Niger and a refurbished hangar in Niamey. A spare-parts hangar also is planned for Niamey.
“Standing side by side, U.S. and Nigerien forces have come together to advance mutual security and trust,” Barrett said. “Today’s C-130 handover ceremony is a cornerstone in increasing our strong partnership and interoperability in the actions of our two air forces.”
Katambe echoed that sentiment.
“The arrival of this aircraft celebrates once again the excellence of military cooperation between the United States of America and Niger,” he said.