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AFRICOM recovered Hellfire missile lost in Niger drone crash

U.S. Africa Command says it recovered a Hellfire missile that was armed on an MQ-1 drone that crashed near Agadez, Niger, on Feb. 29.

Pictures of the alleged U.S. drone crash were making the rounds on social media Monday and included a picture of a man posing next to what appears to be a fully intact Hellfire missile.

“Our initial and current assessment is that the RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] was lost due to mechanical failure. We do not believe the RPA was lost as a result of any hostile action,” Navy Lt. Christina M. Gibson, a spokeswoman with U.S. Africa Command, told Military Times in an email Monday.

AFRICOM confirmed to Military Times that the missile had been recovered. The recovered Hellfire also confirms media reports that the U.S. is operating armed drones out of Niger.

The Hellfire is a roughly 100-pound air-to-ground laser-guided missile that has removed hundreds of terrorists from the battlefields across Africa and the Middle East. Its precision strike capabilities allow U.S. forces to minimize civilian and collateral damage.

Agadez is the site of a new sprawling joint Niger and U.S. air base known as Nigerien Air Base 201. AFRICOM announced in November that the $110 million airfield was conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations out of the base, and was housing armed drones and other aircraft that previously were operating out of Niger’s capital, Niamey.

AFRICOM said at the time the new base’s location in central Niger was critical due to the geographic advantages it posed in warding off threats from violent extremist groups in the area.

A number of terror and insurgent groups operate in Niger and West Africa to include ISIS and al-Qaida offshoots.

“Flexible and diverse postures across the African continent enable us to facilitate operational needs and better support our partners in the region,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces in Africa, said in a November AFRICOM news release. “The location in Agadez was selected in conjunction with Niger due to the geographic and strategic flexibility it offers to regional security efforts.”

Multiple violent extremist groups exist in West Africa, including Boko Haram and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee in January that violent extremist activity in West Africa had increased 250 percent since 2018.

U.S. troops in West Africa are largely tasked with supporting counterterrorism operations conducted by more than 4,500 French troops in the region. U.S. troops provide logistics support, airlift, intelligence sharing and other things to support U.S. allies.

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