US makes deal for North African drone base in Niger

The US government appears close to opening a new front in its fight against Islamist militants by planning a new base for surveillance dronesin the west African country of Niger.

American forces are already assisting a French offensive in neighbouring Mali that is aimed at recapturing the country's northern desert territory from the hands of Islamist rebels.

But on Monday the US signed a military agreement with Niger that paves the way legally for US forces to operate on its soil and prompted a series of reports in the US media that the Pentagon was keen on opening a new drones base there.

That news appeared to be confirmed by Niger government sources, who said the US ambassador in Niamey, Bisa Williams, had asked Niger's president, Mahamadou Issoufou, for permission to use surveillance drones and had been granted it.

The move would be the latest in a gradual expansion of American surveillance drones in Africa, which have so far been operated from Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. It would represent an acknowledgement that the north and west African regions are becoming a key battleground in the fight against Islamist groups. Aside from the conflict in Mali, Nigeria is plagued by violent Islamists extremists in its northern provinces and Algeria recently saw a high-profile and bloody attack on western workers at an oil industry facility.

A US military source said that any base in Niger would probably be similar to the one already in Burkina Faso and use a variety of manned and unmanned craft to carry out spying and monitoring missions. The source said it would make up for a lack of human intelligence in the region.

"The reason we are having to push so many drones to the Sahel is because we don't have any human intelligence in the region – either through friendly countries providing it, or through espionage," said the US military source. "We should have humans on the ground, but we don't. When it comes to Mali, US policymakers really don't know what's going on."

Apparently these will be unarmed drones which would mean we would still have the problems we faced in Benghazi when all we had over the Americans under attack were drones taking pictures of the assault.  It is better than nothing.  We do have armed drones flying out of bases like the one at Djibouti which is just north of Somalia and within range of Yemen.


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