U.S. Military Cutting Medevac Flights for Troops in West Africa

Kevin S. Cochie, a vice president for Erickson, which is based in Portland, Ore., declined to comment on details of the contract. “Whether it’s U.S. personnel in need or our partner forces, we have launched and responded in the aftermath of unforeseen situations and contributed to saving life and limb,” said Mr. Cochie, a retired Army Special Operations helicopter pilot. “From a business perspective, it’s unfortunate that we are winding down a contract in Africa.”

Erickson’s medevac helicopters were on standby for the American military advisers and the Nigerien forces during the operation in Diffa on March 9-10, but there were no casualties, military officials said.

While Erickson has not been summoned to evacuate wounded American personnel in Niger since late 2017, the company’s helicopters have evacuated Nigerien troops who were wounded in counterterrorism missions, including major operations in December 2019 and January 2020, according to people familiar with the missions.

About 90 percent of Erickson’s missions in the past two years have involved ferrying cargo or troops; 10 percent involved evacuating injured Nigerien military personnel, Mr. Cochie said.

Erickson supports American troops in other hot spots around the world, including Marine Special Operations forces in the southern Philippines.

Stanley Finch, the president of Berry Aviation, referred all questions to the Africa Command.

Some military officials say the risk of casualties to American service members in West Africa has decreased following the restrictions imposed after the October 2017 ambush. Moreover, U.S. force levels in the region are likely to be cut as a result of Mr. Esper’s review.

But the operation in Diffa last month, in which a dozen or so American advisers helped a much larger force of Nigerian and Nigerien troops target a senior Boko Haram leader, underscores that the risk to American troops still remains.

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