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Cloud and Hennessey report: "About 100 U.S. troops have deployed to the West African country of Niger to help establish a drone base for surveillance missions, in the latest step by the United States to aid French forces battling Islamic militants in neighboring Mali."

A Predator drone at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas. The US is establishing a temporary drone base in Niger to assist French troops battling Islamist militants in neighboring Mali. (photo: Tony Avelar/Christian Science Monitor)
A Predator drone at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas. The US is establishing a temporary drone base in Niger to assist French troops battling Islamist militants in neighboring Mali. (photo: Tony Avelar/Christian Science Monitor)


US Sends Troops to Niger for Drone Missions

By David S. Cloud and Kathleen Hennessey, Los Angeles Times

23 February 13

 

President Obama says the 100-troop deployment will help France in its effort to drive militants out of northern Mali.

ASHINGTON - About 100 U.S. troops have deployed to the West African country of Niger to help establish a drone base for surveillance missions, in the latest step by the United States to aid French forces battling Islamic militants in neighboring Mali.

In a letter to Congress on Friday, President Obama said the deployment would "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 last 40 American troops in the deployment arrived in Niger on Feb. 20 with the consent of the government, Obama said.

A senior U.S. officer described the troops as a security unit that will protect crews flying and maintaining U.S. Air Force drones now operating from an airfield near the capital, Niamey. The force includes drone pilots, intelligence liaison officers and aircraft maintenance personnel, the officer said.

"We're basing drones there to help the French, and this deployment is the security element," the officer said.

He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the operation publicly.

French forces have been battling to push Islamic militants out of northern Mali in recent weeks in an effort to oust insurgents who seized local control after the civilian government collapsed last year.

Predator drones are already flying over Mali to assist French troops, who intervened in January and have driven back militants and Tuareg rebels, who had taken over three major cities and were threatening Mali's capital, Bamako.

The drones flying from Niger will be unarmed surveillance aircraft tracking suspected militants operating in the remote parts of northern Mali. The aircraft could also be used over other countries in the region, the officer said.

The Obama administration has not yet decided to establish a permanent drone base in Niger, the senior officer said. For the moment, the operation is considered a temporary mission to assist the French.

But some senior officers in the Pentagon's Africa Command, which oversees military operations on the continent, favor a permanent base to develop a better picture of the militant threat in West Africa, the officer said.

Among the groups the U.S. is worried about is Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group in neighboring Nigeria.

Currently, the only permanent base in Africa from which drones operate is in Djibouti, thousands of miles to the east.

In addition to the militants in Mali - some with loose ties to Al Qaeda groups - extremists have taken refuge in the largely ungoverned desert areas of southern Libya and Algeria.

If the Obama administration decides to authorize a permanent base in Niger, it would probably be in Agadez, near northern Mali, the officer said, confirming a report in the New York Times.

Some senior military commanders, in arguing for a permanent base, say the militant threat in the region is growing and could eventually threaten the U.S. and its allies unless more aggressive action is taken.

But some Obama administration officials are skeptical about getting more deeply involved in the region, saying there is no strong evidence that militants there want to target the United States.

Some officials also argue against getting involved in a low-level military operation just as direct U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan is nearing an end.

The Obama administration has helped the French operation in Mali with intelligence, transportation for French troops and air refueling of French fighters. But the White House has kept the U.S. role limited.

The U.S. buildup in Niger, though still small in numbers, has unfolded quickly. Last month, the U.S. and Niger signed an agreement outlining legal protections for American troops operating there.

The U.S. also has been operating surveillance drones across the region, including over a natural gas complex last month in eastern Algeria, where militants took hundreds of people prisoner during a four-day siege that killed 37 hostages.


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+5 # Todd Williams 2013-02-23 11:57
If our Presidennt and Congress is really serious about budget cuts, then we can start cutting this bullshit. Also, how about getting the hell out of Afghanistan now instead of next year? Foreign interventionism ALWAYS costs us more than it's worth. Developmental aid pays off big in foreign afaairs, not military action.
 
 
+3 # Activista 2013-02-23 12:23
Obama says the 100-troop deployment will help France in its effort to drive militants out of northern Mali ...
Article forgets (conveniently) that USA and French are supporting MILITARY junta of US trained generals that overthrew ELECTED government -
"Malian military junta troops who carried out a coup in March guard a street after renewed fighting in the capital Bamako ...
 
 
+3 # Selwick 2013-02-23 16:48
Mali guys threatening the U.S.? Huh? The last paragraph reveals what this is all about: The big natural gas complex in eastern Algeria.
Well, who would have thought it?

And remember the last time, the U.S. told us they are helping the French?
 
 
+1 # Activista 2013-02-23 17:52
"the U.S. and Niger signed an agreement outlining legal protections for American troops (psychos) operating there" ...AKA free to kill? ..
 
 
0 # Activista 2013-02-24 16:19
‎"The Muslim nation wakes from its long sleep and is furious at the sight of a new generation of crusaders intent on occupying large parts of the Middle East and stealing its valuable resources."
article loaded with facts ...great use of parody .. the best on NEOCON movement and goals - read and republish - each sentence is a treasure readersupported news.org/opinio n2/266-32/16189 -war-on-terror- the-wests-new-r eligion
 
 
+2 # RMDC 2013-02-24 18:07
Obama's lust for kiilling seems to know no bounds. First the surveilance drone to find out where the people he wants to kill are. And then the killer droned to bomb them and their families.

I'd say this action will create 1000s of new haters of America. I guess that is what Obama wants so he can then send in more military.

Failed policies always call for more of the same. If it fails, he must not be doing enough.
 

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