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The Belgian mission in Niger (New Nero) at a standstill. Coronavirus forces (v3)

(B2) About fifty Belgian soldiers present in Niger (Maradi) within the framework of the bilateral operation to train Nigerien forces will be repatriated to Brussels. The problem remains to find a means of repatriation

Belgian trainers in Niger during the visit of the Chief of Staff (credit: Belgian Defense / B2 archives)

20 positive for Covid-19 + 30 contact cases

About twenty Belgian soldiers (present since October for the most part) have been declared " positive » to the Covid19, announcement the Belgian general staff and return to Belgium. They won't be the only ones. " As a precaution », around thirty soldiers exposed to high-risk contacts are also returning to Belgium. A precautionary measure, in order to to keep the situation under control ". Upon their return to Belgium, they will be placed in quarantine in a hotel reserved exclusively for this ", with " medical follow-up and PCR tests ».

Reduced staff on site

The soldiers who are not positive and present only low risks of contamination remain in Niger “ in order to ensure the continuity of our presence on site ". About forty people, according to a Belgian defense spokesperson interviewed by B2, thus ensure the security of the cantonment.

Assignment suspended

But it is the whole mission which is suspended ". Additional medical personnel have been sent to Maradi to ensure medical follow-up “ in the best possible conditions ". And a specialized team will be responsible for disinfecting the camp before the arrival of the next rotation scheduled for January.

A lack of planes

Problem: there is currently no way to repatriate Belgians. Belgium has no more planes immediately available for this task (1). The C-130s are at the end of their tether and are being put away one after the other (1). The two A400Ms that have arrived are in the test and incorporation phase. Embraer planes are in the process of being resold. And the A321 strategic airlifter was handed over to its (private) operator. So the Minister of Defence, L. Dedonder, knocked on the doors of her neighbours.

EATC solicited

But no one seems to be in a hurry to meet the demand. The European Transport Aviation Command (EATC) was contacted. France, present in the region, reserves its resources for Operation Barkhane. The latest news, German Luftwaffe planes, specializing in Medevac (medical repatriation) could stick to it. But not under any conditions, especially sanitary conditions. The sick may well not be repatriated all at once.

Repatriation completed

(updated) All the soldiers returned to the country and were quarantined on their arrival, a military spokesman told the Belga agency without giving much details. It took no less than three flights, mainly provided by Germany, to carry out this Medevac.

Succession in progress

The relief is being prepared, provided (as today) largely by the 2nd Commando Battalion from Flawinne (near Namur). But it will not be done for several weeks, the time of disinfection

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Limited medical support

It's not the only problem. The on-site medical care aspect is also latent. If there is a medical staff for small routine care, there is no more. The medical component of the Belgian army is 'on the bone'. Belgian defense was therefore obliged to contract with a private partner, within the framework of a common contract negotiated with the European Defense Agency. But besides being expensive, this solution does not offer the same flexibility as an in-house solution. And the problem does not seem to concern only Niger. According to our elements, the Belgian deployments in the Central African Republic or in West Africa face the same problem.

(1) The Belgian C-130 fleet of eleven aircraft is being dismantled. Two aircraft have already been dismantled in 2018. For the other eight aircraft, a contract has been signed with Sabena Aerospace for the reuse of spare parts, accessories and other support equipment. As for the last plane, it is intended to be kept and will be stored, from April 2021, at the aviation museum located on the Beauvechain base (1 Wing Historical Centre), as confirmed by the Belgian Minister of Defence, Ludivine Dedonder, before the Chamber of Deputies this Wednesday (13.01).

(Updated) 21 p.m. on the 'repatriation' part + note on the C130 fleet - 16.1 on effective repatriation - effective on site - relief

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).