I recently returned from the West African country of Niger. Situated north of Nigeria and west of Chad, the southern portion of the country has been plagued by attacks by Boko Haram. Fighters belonging to the extremist organization, which recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, slip across the Nigerian border into Niger and commit horrific acts of violence – bombings, kidnapping, and murder – against the civilian population. A joint Chadian-Nigerien (the final ‘e’ is an important distinction, denoting Niger, not Nigeria) offensive is starting to make headway in pushing Boko Haram back into Nigeria, but security threats persist along the border.
Spirit of America was alerted to a critical need: the Nigerien unit in the lead on securing the border and reacting to attacks, while highly motivated and well trained by their US Army advisors, lacked basic lifesaving medical supplies to provide treatment to wounded soldiers and civilians. In addition, they did not have the basic equipment needed to effectively man their posts in the heat of the day or at night. Accordingly, in an effort we first told you about here, Spirit of America provided metal detector wands to help the soldiers check for bombs, first aid kits and stretchers to help them treat casualties, and headlamps and hydration backpacks (Camelbaks) to allow them to safeguard the border in all conditions.
I linked up with the US advisory team in the southern city of Diffa to distribute this important equipment to the Nigerien troops. We first met up with the colonel in charge of all Nigerien armed forces in the region, who told us that this equipment was tremendously important to the overall effort, both in improving the capabilities of his soldiers and in protecting the civilian population. Moreover, he expressly thanked the donors of Spirit of America for making this possible.
After that engagement, the US team and I met up with the Nigerien troops themselves. These soldiers are used to working with next to no equipment, so the SoA-provided gear supplied them with a psychological boost as well as a more practical one. We went through all the equipment, inventorying it and transferring it to the unit commander, and then the soldiers practiced with it under the watchful eyes of their US advisors. More comprehensive training is planned in the weeks to come. Again, the Nigerien soldiers expressed their deep gratitude for the generosity of the American people.
In addition to delivering the equipment, I also had an opportunity to accompany the Nigerien soldiers as they provided supplies to refugees still unable to return to their homes due to Boko Haram. We drove to a refugee camp just outside Diffa to distribute mosquito nets – with the rainy season looming, malaria will become an even greater issue. The Nigerien troops, while fully aware that security is their top priority, also understand the great importance of addressing the needs of the local population, especially vulnerable groups like refugees.
Because of your generosity, Spirit of America is able to support the good work of people like these Nigerien soldiers around the world. Thank you for helping make them more effective in their efforts to stop Boko Haram and restore peace and stability to southern Niger.
All the best,
Field Ops Manager