A missile-armed US Africa Command (Africom) MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made an emergency landing in Niger over the weekend.
Photos on Twitter show the aircraft at rest in scrubland, still armed with at least one Hellfire missile.
According to Military Times, Africom told the publication the aircraft had made an emergency landing near Agadez, Niger, on 23 January.
“The aircraft experienced a mechanical malfunction while conducting a routine mission in support of operations in the region,” US Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns told Military Times. An investigation into the cause of the malfunction will take place, he said.
“The aircraft is under observation by U.S. forces with host nation cooperation and assistance,” Karns told the publication. “Assessment and the process of recovery of the aircraft and safeguarding the site is underway.”
In a Tweet, Africom said the aircraft “conducted an emergency landing in the vicinity of Agadez, Niger, Jan. 23. The aircraft experienced a mechanical malfunction while conducting a routine mission in support of operations in the region. An investigation into the cause of the malfunction will take place. The aircraft is under observation.”
The United States has lost several UAVs in the region. In February 2020, a Gray Eagle crashed in Niger after suffering mechanical failure. At least one Hellfire missile survived the impact in that crash.
The US military began conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations out of Agadez from November 2019 after a multi-million dollar upgrade.
The US previously flew armed UAVs out of Niger’s capital, Niamey. They target Islamist militants in the Sahel, including Boko Haram and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The US military also supports thousands of French troops in the region.