The US is setting up a drone base in Niger, according to President Barack Obama, who made the announcement on Friday.
About 100 US troops arrived on the ground in the West African nation to set up the base. Their goal will be to spy on al Qaeda fighters operating in the Sahara Desert.
The new drone base is the latest step by the Pentagon to increase its intelligence-gathering in Africa, reports The Washington Post.
The drone base in Niger adds another operation against al Qaeda and its affiliates. There are already drone combat missions in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The CIA has also been running drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
The announcement was made in a letter to Congress. Obama wrote that about 40 US service members arrived in the West African nation on Wednesday to help build the base. The troops are armed to protect themselves and will support the French-led military operation in Mali, which neighbors Niger.
Obama sent the letter about troops in Niger to the heads of the Senate and the House of Representatives, notes ABC News. The military is working with the consent of the government of Niger. The US has started flying Predator drones over Mali in recent weeks, as requested by the French.
The new drone base will be set up in Niger’s capital of Niamey, which is close to Mali. Obama wrote in Friday’s letter:
“This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region.”
The base will help the US undertake long-term surveillance operations in the area. There will likely be several unarmed Predator drones at the new Niger base, as well as the support teams required to fly and maintain them. Along with surveillance drones, the US has also provided refueling missions and flown French military personnel to Mali and Niger.
The United States is not actively participating in the Mali operation. It is unclear how many troops will stay in Niger to operate the new drone base.
[Image by US Air Force (http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2005/s2421.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]