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

(B2) Around fifty Belgian soldiers present in Niger (Maradi) as part of the bilateral operation to train Nigerien forces will be repatriated to Brussels. The problem remains finding 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 the Belgians. Belgium no longer has any aircraft immediately available for this task (1). The C-130s are running out of steam and are being put away one after the other (1). The two A400Ms that have arrived are in the testing and incorporation phase. Embraer planes are about to be resold. And the A321 strategic transport aircraft was handed over to its (private) operator. So the Minister of Defense, L. Dedonder, knocks on the doors of her neighbors.

The EATC requested

But no one seems eager to respond to the request. The European Transport Aviation Command (EATC) was requested. France present in the region reserves its resources for Operation Barkhane. The latest news is that German Luftwaffe planes, specialized in Medevac (medical repatriation), could get involved. But not under any conditions, particularly health ones. The sick may not be repatriated all at once.

Repatriation completed

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

Succession in progress

The replacement is being prepared, provided (as today) largely by the 2nd battalion of commandos from Flawinne (near Namur). But this will not be done for several weeks, the time for disinfection

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Limited medical support

This is not the only problem. The on-site medical care aspect is also lagging. If there is medical staff for small routine care, there is nothing 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 joint contract negotiated with the European Defense Agency. But apart from being expensive, this solution does not offer the same flexibility as an in-house solution. And the problem does not seem to only concern Niger. According to our information, Belgian deployments in the Central African Republic or West Africa face the same problem.

(1) The Belgian C-130 fleet of eleven aircraft is in the process of being broken up. Two aircraft have already been dismantled in 2018. For the other eight aircraft, a contract was 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 preserved 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 Defense, 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).