By Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in continuation of its forces deployment to Mali has sent two Alpha Jets to strengthen the ECOWAS intervention force battling extremist rebel forces in Mali's northern flank.
The fighter jets, which was authorized for combat operation by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, took off yesterday from the domestic wing of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The Air Component Commander, Air Vice Marshal Tayo Oguntoyinbo, led the Alpha Jet team and flew to Niamey, in Niger Republic, where they will be based during the Mali operations.
Accordingly, the team of fighter pilots was seen off by the Chief of Training and Operations at Nigerian Air Force headquarters, AVM Dickson Dillimono, as they flew out of Abuja for Niamey.
Speaking to journalists before the take-off of the fighter jets, the Director of Information and Public Relations, NAF, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas, disclosed that the next deployment of Nigerian Air Force Mi-35 Helicopters from Nigeria to Mali will take place later today.
Anas also revealed that the NAF C-130 aircraft have continued to airlift Nigerian Army personnel and equipment to Mali.
He said: "We went to drop our regiment personnel from Port Harcourt, Rivers state to Mali yesterday (Thursday). This afternoon (Friday), we are having our Alpha Jets which will start their movement down to Mali.
"Yesterday the CAS (Bade) went to Port Harcourt to be able to administer the movement of our own troops to Mali and today we are witnessing the Alpha Jets that will be moving to Mali this afternoon.
"You will see the briefing of the team of pilots (team of four pilots led by AVM Omotoyinbo), after that they will start their aircraft and deploy straight to Mali via Niamey, Niger Republic."
The two fighter jets, Alpha Jets NAF 455 and NAF 452 Dassault-Brguft Donnier 78 are said to be the game-changer that helped ECOMOG forces led by Nigeria contain Charles Taylor and his forces during the Liberian conflict.
Military sources said the jets also played a similar role in the Sierra Leonean civil war and ensured that peace was enforced at the West African sister country.