800 US defence personnel in Niger are not alone. They are one of four western armies that have installed themselves in the vast desert landscape, variously flying armed drones, hunting militants, building vast bases, controlling migration and collecting intelligence from the region. France has 500 soldiers on its base in Niamey, and more on its bases in Madama and Aguelal. Germany has 50 soldiers in Niamey to support the UN peacekeeping force in Mali, and is expanding accommodation to cater for more on the airbase it shares with France. Canadian soldiers come and go. Italy has an advance team of 40 soldiers in the country, preparing for the arrival of up to 430 more troops who will “train, advise and assist” local forces to fight illicit trafficking, mostly of migrants. There are three giant white hangars of Airbase 201, the new US base near the centuries-old city of Agadez, which is costing $100m (£78m) to build.
“I don’t like the term ‘foreign forces’ – they’re friendly forces, who will leave as soon as we want them to,” said Mahamadou Issoufou, the Nigerien president said, “They’re here at our request, and once the need for them disappears, they’ll leave.”