Low Tech Takes Out High Tech in Niger

Low Tech Takes Out High Tech in Niger

Base Aerienne near Agadez is a $120 million security hub with some of the most advanced weapons on earth. Despite all this, four guys in a pickup truck essentially walked off the base with over $40,000 in cash.

Officials have provided few details about the robbery or its aftermath. Some people with ties to the base suggested that poor operational security may have played a key role. Supposedly, after the withdrawal at a local bank to make payroll payments, someone shared the information with a WhatsApp group of close to 200 people. “Everybody knows he has the money and where he is going,” an anonymous contractor said. “I saw the WhatsApp. I had three friends who lost their money that day.” 

It reportedly took a month for those whose pay was stolen to be reimbursed.

Situation in Niger

This former French colony is in the Sahel (sub-Saharan Africa), that thin line that separates mostly Muslim north Africa from mostly Christian south Africa. This religious difference, along with ecological, economic, and political instability, makes countries like Niger prime targets of Jihadists and other militants.

Two ongoing insurgencies have plagued this nation since 2002. There is no end in sight for either one of them.

When the Algerian Civil War ended in 2002, the fighting did not stop. Instead, it shifted to the  Maghreb region, a vast swath of Northwest Africa that covers parts of about a half-dozen countries, including Niger. This region was once known as the Barbary Coast (“to the shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps hymn). Violent conflicts are par for the course in this troubled area of the world.

In 2003, the  Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a group of Algerian militants, joined al Qaeda in an attempt to overthrow all “apostate” governments in North Africa, which was pretty much all of them. Initially, things went badly. Algerian forces pushed GSPC militants into Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger. Hundreds of people have died in sporadic violent incidents over the past twenty years. 

GSPC has not been able to consolidate its power in Niger. But the insurgency will not go away either.

The Boko Haram insurgency, which started in 2009, is an even greater threat to the fledgling democracy in Niger. The insurgency quickly gained momentum, and by 2010, an international organization said Boko Haram was the world’s deadliest terrorist group. In addition to killing people, mostly civilians, Boko Haram fighters seized a large part of sparsely-populated northern Niger.

Things turned around in 2015. A combination of terrorist infighting and a multinational anti-insurgency campaign forced Boko Haram into two small pockets of Niger and Chad. Then, the pendulum swung the other way. In 2018, Boko Haram and its splinter group ISWAP (Islamic State’s West Africa Province) went back on the offensive. 

Things kept changing. There was trouble in paradise between Boko Haram and ISWAP. In May 2021 ISWAP attacked and overran Boko Haram militants in the Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was killed during the fighting, supposedly when he triggered a suicide vest. Boko Haram disintegrated. Tens of thousands of people surrendered to Nigeran forces. But the rest defected to ISAWP, which continues operations in the area. 

Contractor Duties

As part of the aforementioned multinational campaign, the Americans established an airbase in Cameroon. The airmen mostly flew reconnaissance drones, provided intelligence, and oversaw a program to transfer American military vehicles to the Cameroonian Army. Furthermore, U.S. Army soldiers in Cameroon provide IED awareness training to the country’s infantry forces. Servicemembers could do all these jobs, but contractors do them better, as outlined below.

Weapons Support

Reconnaissance drones are nothing like model airplanes with cameras attached to their bellies. This equipment, like other advanced military equipment, is very sophisticated. As the above story points out, tech does not win wars, but it certainly helps.

Advanced weapons require advanced maintenance, especially in a harsh climate like west-central Africa. Maintenance alone usually isn’t enough. This equipment wasn’t designed to work in such an environment. Therefore, private military contractors must often make some special modifications themselves.

Only private military contractors are in a good position to do these things. Many contractors worked for the companies that designed and manufactured the weapons and systems in use in Niger.


Aerial intelligence is useful. Ground intelligence is really useful. Unfortunately, many servicemembers in the U.S. armed forces and around the world do not know how to build relationships with civilians.

Most contractors have this skill. Many contractors are former law enforcement officers. They know when to pressure individuals to provide information and when to back off.


While Cameroon and Niger are likely beautiful countries, American contractors or servicemembers likely will not want to stay there any longer than necessary. You cannot leave children unattended until they can fend for themselves. Likewise, you cannot leave Shelian countries unattended until they can fend for themselves. This means they have solid security forces that make full use of the latest technological weapons.

Contractors have boots-on-the-ground experience that many regular servicemembers don’t have, as mentioned above. Therefore, contractors do a good job of training government security forces. They know the better they share their experiences with trainees, the sooner they can go home.

People win wars if they have the right tools. Contactors ensure that these tools are in good working order and that government security forces know how to use them. This training usually includes some tips and techniques that are not in the factory manual.

Injury Compensation Available

Overseas contractors risk serious injury from the moment they step off the plane. At a minimum, these injuries usually mean weeks or months without work. Some of these victims are not able to work again. So, the Defense Base Act offers several kinds of wage replacement benefits, as follows:

  • Permanent Total Disability: This category usually includes fatal and nearly-fatal injuries. If the victim does not survive or is too hurt to work again, the DBA usually compensates these survivors or individuals based on their lost future income.
  • Permanent Partial Disability: Some injuries, like the loss of a leg or an eye, are instant PPD injuries. Others are lesser injuries that do not fully heal. For example, the bones and muscles in an injured shoulder might mend, but there might always be a permanent loss of motion in that joint. So, the DBA typically compensates these victims based on the loss of use.
  • Temporary Total Disability: Many victims must take time off from work to recover. Afterward, they are good to go. Unfortunately, as mentioned, this process could be lengthy. To prevent these families from sustaining a financial disaster, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the temporary disability.
  • Temporary Partial Disability: After a few weeks or months, some victims “graduate” from TTD injuries to TPD injuries. They may work, but they must accept light duty or restrict their hours because of their lingering injuries. The DBA usually pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new AWW in these situations.

The Average Weekly Wage is not just a snapshot. It accounts for past and future wages. Many injured contractors just arrived in-country. Past wages do not reflect future wages in these situations. Furthermore, most contractors earn performance bonuses based on the number of hours worked. An injury should not torpedo their qualifications for such bonuses.

For more information about DBA medical benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.