Nigerian pilots are currently training on Super Tucano fighter jets at the Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, United States, checks by The ICIR have revealed.
The federal government recently announced that Nigeria would deliver six out of the 12 units of fighter aircraft it ordered in mid-July 2021. The aircraft are to be deployed in the war against terror in the country.
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) told The ICIR that the Nigerian pilots are training with the jets ahead of their delivery to Nigeria.
AFRICOM’s West Africa media chief, Nicole Kirschmann, disclosed in response to enquiries by The ICIR concerning steps taken by the US military command to tackle terrorism in Sub-Saharan African countries, including Nigeria.
The Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, also named ALX or A-29, is a Brazilian turboprop light attack aircraft designed and built by Embraer to develop the Embraer EMB 312 Tucano. The A-29 Super Tucano carries a wide variety of weapons, including precision-guided munitions, and was designed to be a low-cost system operated in low-threat environments. In addition to its manufacture in Brazil, Embraer has set up a production line in the US in conjunction with Sierra Nevada Corporation to manufacture A-29s to many export customers.
“Currently, the US is working to deliver A-29 Super Tucanos to the Nigerian Armed Forces, and Nigerian pilots are currently training on that aircraft with US Air Force Pilots at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, USA,” Kirschmann said in an email response to questions raised by The ICIR‘s correspondent.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the prime contractor for the purchase of the Super Tucanos, had in a report published by Flight Global on March 9, 2021, said five Nigerian Super Tucanos, which have been painted in jungle camouflage, are at Moody AFB in Georgia for pilot and maintainer training.
“The painted jungle scheme NAF A-29 now moves on to mission modification at Moody Air Force Base. Following modification, before delivery, NAF pilots and maintenance personnel will further train in the aircraft,” SNC said in the report by Flight Global.
In November 2018, SNC was awarded a $329 million Foreign Military Sales contract from the US government to build 12 A-29 Super Tucanos for the Nigerian air force. The armed turboprops are intended for use against Boko Haram and Islamic State militants.
SNC reported produces the aircraft in Jacksonville, Florida.
The AFRICOM spokesperson’s response confirmed that Nigerian Air Force pilots are now training with the fighter jets following the modification stage’s completion.
Kirschmann told The ICIR that the US African Command partners with several nations in West Africa, including Nigeria, to increase peace and security across the region.
“Through multinational exercises and military-to-military engagements, US Africa Command strengthens relationships with African partner nations to help build the defence capability and capacity of their security forces. US Africa Command embraces a holistic approach to security challenges by working closely with US government inter-agency counterparts and partner nation militaries from around the world,” she said.
Kirschmann listed multinational security cooperation efforts initiated by AFRICOM in West Africa to include the G5 Sahel Joint Force, the Multinational Joint Task Force, Operation Barkhane, and Task Force Takuba.
AFRICOM and the US Department of Defense also host several military exercises in North and West Africa, including Flintlock, African Lion, and the recently completed annual Gulf of Guinea naval exercise, Obangame Express.
- 6000 US troops currently in Africa
Currently, about 6000 US soldiers are stationed in Africa.
Out of the number, 1,200 are on the ground in West Africa.
Kirschmann disclosed the figures in response to enquiries by The ICIR‘s correspondent concerning whether, beyond assisting regional governments and military units, AFRICOM engages in actual campaigns to neutralise terrorists in the continent.
A recent report by Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs had noted that Africa was becoming a ‘Jihadist playground for the resurgent Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s and warned that Sub-Saharan Africa could because an operational base for Jihadist groups if their current activities in the region are left unchecked. The report observed that, if that should happen, it will hurt US and Western interests.
“The Department of Defense typically has approximately 6,000 troops, DoD (Department of Defence) civilians, and DoD contractors stationed on the continent, including approximately 1,200 personnel in West Africa,” the AFRICOM spokesperson disclosed.
She added that, as part of the campaign against terrorism in the continent, the US government frequently sells or donates military equipment to militaries in West Africa, including the Nigerian Armed Forces. The sale of the Super Tucanos to Nigeria was in line with the military assistance to African governments.
- Nigeria critical partner in the fight against terror
Kirschmann told The ICIR that “Nigeria is a critical partner for US Africa Command in the fight against terrorism and violent extremist organisations in Africa, specifically Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa.”
According to her, the command is looking forward to a continued and strengthened partnership with the Government of Nigeria to ensure greater stability in the region.
“US Africa Command’s security cooperation with Nigeria aims to enable the Nigerian government to protect its citizens better and defeat terrorist groups in the region while respecting human rights and the law of armed conflict,” she added.
Kirschmann further disclosed that Nigeria is a major focus of the US Africa Command’s Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) program.
She explained that Nigeria is a WPS priority country due to Boko Haram’s kidnapping and the use of female fighters and enablers through the conflict.
- AFRICOM alarmed at kidnapping-for-ransom in Nigeria
In further response to The ICIR‘s enquiries, Kirschmann said AFRICOM was alarmed at the kidnapping rate for ransom going on in Nigeria.
In recent times, kidnapping-for-ransom has become the norm in Nigeria, with all classes of citizens, including affluent prominent individuals and petty traders and students, being abducted for ransom.
Commenting on the development, Kirschmann said, “One of US Africa Command’s concerns in the region is the kidnapping-for-ransom network. We are alarmed by the increase in kidnappings across the region.”
According to Kirschmann, while kidnapping is a concern for Americans living and working in West Africa, it is a much larger concern and threat for locals in the region.
“These abductions must stop, and those responsible must be held accountable to the full extent of the law,” she stressed.
- AFRICOM monitoring kidnapping-for-ransom networks
Kirschmann added that the US Africa Command “continues to monitor these kidnapping-for-ransom networks and the individuals involved”.
She said AFRICOM would continue to work with regional governments in degrading the terrorist and criminal networks that enable kidnapping-for-ransom.