Britain’s Hidden Helicopter War in Niger

As Niger expels US troops, Declassified reveals British helicopters operated a taxi service for French forces in the uranium-rich African state.

21 March 2024
Chinooks fly over the Sahel region. (Photo: MoD)

Chinooks fly over the Sahel region. (Photo: MoD)

  • The RAF flew 39 helicopter missions into Niger before first publicly mentioning them
  • Niger has been a “significant source” of uranium for EDF, the French company that runs Britain’s nuclear power plants

Royal Air Force helicopters flew more than 100 missions into Niger and Burkina Faso ahead of military coups across west Africa.

The revelation comes as Niger’s junta expelled US forces on Sunday. Thousands of French troops had already been kicked out last year following the coup.

America and France, the former colonial power, stationed troops in Niger throughout the war on terror in a supposed effort to stamp out attacks by Islamic extremists.

However their presence had become deeply unpopular after they failed to stop a surge in violence that spilled over from NATO’s toppling of Libya’s Gaddafi regime in 2011. 

Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries despite being a major supplier of uranium for nuclear power plants.

Little is known about British involvement with France’s failed counter-terrorism campaign in Niger. The RAF only made a one reference in passing to the Niger sorties in a wider press release about a deployment to Mali. 

It said the twin-rotor Chinook helicopters “first arrived in West Africa during July 2018 to provide a heavy lift helicopter support capability to [France’s] Op Barkhane. The Chinooks therefore regularly carry out troop movements, resupply missions and logistical support to the French forward operating bases and desert locations around Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.”

While most publicity focused on the Chinook operations in Mali, their cross-border flights largely escaped scrutiny.

Declassified has found that RAF Chinooks flew 57 sorties into Niger from Mali between February 2019 and June 2022, and a further 58 into Burkina Faso. The data was disclosed in a freedom of information response from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The RAF did not publicly mention the Niger sorties until mid-2021, by which time Chinooks had flown 39 missions into the country.

Records show there were up to three cross-border sorties a day, transporting dozens of French troops and tonnes of supplies. Based at Gao in a remote region of Mali, the Chinooks flew to Niger’s capital and parts of Burkina Faso, at a cost of more than £13m per year.


All three countries have recently seen military coups, largely in protest at the failure of Western interventions to bring stability. The coups worried NATO elites who feared Russia’s Wagner group would fill the vacuum and jeopardise uranium supplies.

French state-owned energy giant EDF, which runs all of Britain’s nuclear power plants, told a UK parliamentary committee months after the coup: “Canada and Kazakhstan make up over 50% of our uranium ore supply. Niger remains a significant source, but due to the recent instability our large supply chain has been flexed to cover any disruption and no issues have been seen.”

Energy security minister Andrew Bowie was initially unable to tell MPs where Britain obtained its uranium, as “the sourcing of fuel for the UK’s operational civil nuclear power plants is a commercial decision for the plant operator”.


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British troops pulled out of Mali in November 2022 following an anti-Western coup, ending all Chinook operations in the Sahel region. Niger’s military staged its coup last July and immediately indicated French troops would have to leave. 

Abdoul Kader Amadou Mossi, from the Diaspora Association of Niger Republic Nationals in the United Kingdom (Darn-UK), said: “We want the French army out of Niger.”

Speaking to Declassified from a protest outside the French embassy in London, he explained: “Despite their presence, the terrorists are killing a lot of people. There is no peace in our country.”

He added: “Before NATO intervened in Libya, our African leaders, especially my president, had approached Barack Obama and western leaders to catch their attention that they should not intervene in Libya because…it’s going to affect the whole region. They didn’t listen to him…and after Gaddafi died, the regime has fallen but there’s no peace any more.”