How Destroying Excess Weapons in Niger Weakens Terrorists in the Sahel and Sahara

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A Nigerien soldier destroys a heavy machine gun under a project funded by the United States. (Department of State photo)
A Nigerien soldier destroys a heavy machine gun under a project funded by the United States. (Department of State photo)

How Destroying Excess Weapons in Niger Weakens Terrorists in the Sahel and Sahara

Niger, a landlocked country in Western Africa about twice the size of Texas, bridges the Sahara and the Sahel, linking Northern Africa to coastal West African countries. This location has made Niger a trade hub for thousands of years. Today, traffickers exploit these ancient routes and porous regional borders to transport weapons and ammunition to multiple terrorist organizations operating in Northern and Western Africa.
Through the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) program, the State Department assists Nigerien security forces with securing and managing their stockpiles to prevent theft and pilferage. Since 2015, the CWD program has supported an implementing partner, Humanity & Inclusion, in providing weapons destruction infrastructure at two sites for the Nigerien Armed Forces and at a third site for the National Guard. Militaries regularly replace their weapons, but if they cannot destroy retired weapons, those weapons can become a ripe target for diversion. In countries where secure storage space is severely limited, excess weapons become a logistical burden and are often stored in vulnerable conditions or overlooked.

In August, I visited one of the sites in Niamey to see first-hand how the Nigerien Armed Forces was using it. In the corner of a warehouse filled with crates of excess weapons, Chief Warrant Officer Two Issaka Boureina showed us the weapons cutting equipment – a hydraulic shear and circular saw – and his team demonstrated the destruction process.

Clad in protective aprons, helmets, goggles, and ear protection, the team immediately fell into what was clearly a professional and well-practiced routine. A line formed to pass each weapon to a soldier who read the serial number to Boureina, who recorded it in a register. The machine operator carefully cut each weapon into at least three parts, ensuring the scraps could not be used to assemble or repair another weapon.

A Nigerien soldier uses the hydraulic shear donated by the United States to cut a decommissioned weapon. (Department of State video)

The process was labor-intensive. At one point, the operator of the circular saw started to cut a .50 caliber (12.7mm) DShK heavy machine gun. Nicknamed “Dushka,” a Russian word meaning “dear” or “beloved,” the machine gun is widely used throughout the world and is easily mounted on pickup trucks. It took significantly more time and multiple pauses to reposition the gun for the saw to cut through the thick barrel. Despite the significant effort required, the Nigerien Armed Forces has used the space to destroy more than 5,000 excess and obsolete weapons.

Since 2015, the United States has provided more than $4 million for CWD activities in Niger. Through Humanity and Inclusion, the CWD program has enabled the destruction of more than 15 tons of ammunition and funded the building or refurbishment of 26 armories and ammunition stores to better protect government stockpiles. Additionally, the CWD program has increased the Government of Niger’s capacity to manage and secure its own stockpiles by training storekeepers and providing technical assistance to Niger’s National Commission for the Collection and Control of Illicit Weapons.

The United States built this armory for the Nigerien Armed Forces in 2017. (Department of State photo)

To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM. You can also follow Humanity & Inclusion at @HI_UnitedStates.

About the Author: Michael Tirre serves in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs' Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.