France donates two Gazelle helicopters to Niger

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France’s ambassador to Niger has handed over two Gazelle helicopters to the Nigerien Air Force to support counter-terrorism operations, following on from an earlier Gazelle delivery.

The two aircraft (5U-MHL and 5U-MHM) were handed over by Sylvain Itte at Air Base 101 on 16 November, Niger’s Ministry of Defence reported.

Niger’s defence minister Alkassoum Indattout said the delivery brings the number of Gazelles received from France to five. They will be used for combat support of ground troops, medical evacuation, reconnaissance and liaison, amongst others, demonstrating “the rising strength of the Air Force.”

“In this same momentum, it is to be noted the creation of new air bases that will gradually be equipped with personnel, equipment and infrastructure. Also, a human resource generation plan was undertaken last year with the recruitment and training of nearly 400 officer and non-officer students,” the Ministry of Defence stated.

Since 2012, France has trained 13 pilots and 15 mechanics; in March 2013, the first three Gazelles were donated. Indattou said the Gazelle deliveries were “proof of the unconditional support that France brings to Niger in the fight against terrorism”.

Nigerien media reported that France also supplied seven 20 mm cannons and 8 000 rounds of ammunition along with spare parts for a total handover value of 4.2 million euros.

Agence France Presse reports that France has spent 24 million euros on its helicopter training project for Niger over the last decade. This included $56 000 on a new hangar at Air Base 101 next to Niamey-Diori Hamani International Airport – this was formally opened in October 2013.

The first three Gazelles were officially handed over in March 2013. The ex-French Army Air Corps aircraft were refurbished by Aerotech Group SAS in France prior to delivery and are armed with 20 mm cannons. French company DCI trained an initial six Niger Air Force helicopter pilots in France and Niger.

Last month, Niger received two AB 412 helicopters from Italy, and will receive another two helicopters next year.

In another donation, the German military on 1 November supplied fixed wing unmanned aerial vehicles, offroad vehicles and other equipment to Niger’s armed forces. In September, the United States handed over eight OTT Puma M36 vehicles to Niger’s military to help in its fight against terrorism, along with 43 Toyota Land Cruisers and other equipment worth $13 million.