‘A Nest of Spies’: How Poverty-Stricken Niger Is Becoming a Security Hub for the West by Joe Parkinson and Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin – Wall Street Journal
NIAMEY, Niger - Diplomats, spies and hostage negotiators gather nightly on the moonlit terraces of colonial-era hotels in this remote desert capital to trade intelligence on security threats.
Foreign bases and vast new embassy complexes are rising along sand-caked streets. In the shadows, smugglers move migrants, guns and drugs across lawless territory.
Niger, a poverty-stricken nation perched on the southern belt of the Sahara, is rapidly being transformed into one of the world’s most strategic security hubs. Its capital has become ground zero for a multibillion-dollar Western project to halt the migrant trail from West Africa toward the Mediterranean and combat the expansion of jihadist activity across the Sahel, the semiarid region south of the Sahara.
Advocates say the strategy is fortifying the country against security threats, but opponents say it makes Niger a target.
Central districts of Niamey are being overrun by what locals call the Green Zone: diplomatic facilities cloistered behind rings of checkpoints and armed soldiers.
“This place is a nest of spies,” said one contractor who is working to secure the release a European hostage kidnapped by jihadists in the same region where Islamic State militants killed four U.S. Marine commandos last October. “Below the radar, it’s become a key country for the West.”
A surge in financial assistance from European nations seeking to stem the flow of African migrants has made Niger the world’s largest per capita recipient of European Union aid. Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have visited, offering pledges of partnership and investment.
Western military forces operate from at least nine bases in Niger, government officials said. One recent day at Niamey’s airport, two French Eurofighters screeched skyward from the runway as a giant American C-130 transporter plane taxied below. The U.S. is finishing a large air base in Agadez, while the Central Intelligence Agency has begun flying armed drones from an airstrip outside the northern town of Dirkou, Nigerien officials said…