US drone base in Niger to build stronger African presence

US is opening a new drone base in their war against al Qaeda, as president Barack Obama announced on Friday.

Updated: Feb 23, 2013, 15:42 PM IST

Washington: US is opening a new drone base in their war against al Qaeda, as president Barack Obama announced on Friday that they hand sent 100 American troops to West African country Niger to facilitate setting up a new base from which unarmed Predator aircraft would conduct surveillance in the region.
The new drone base that would be located for now in the capital, Niamey, is a signal of the priority Africa has become in America`s antiterrorism efforts, the New York Daily News reports.
The United States military has a limited presence in Africa, with only one permanent base, in Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali, where insurgents had taken over half the country until repelled by a French-led force, it reported.

In a letter to Congress, Obama said about 40 United States military service members arrived in Niger on Wednesday, bringing the total number of those deployed in the country to about 100 people. A military official said the troops were largely Air Force logistics specialists, intelligence analysts and security officers, the paper reported.

Obama claimed the troops, who are armed for self-protection, would support the French-led operation that last month drove the Qaeda and affiliated fighters out of a desert refuge the size of Texas in neighbouring Mali.

Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, signed a status-of-forces agreement last month with the United States that has cleared the way for greater American military involvement in the country and has provided legal protection to American troops there, the paper said.

Benjamin Benson, a command spokesman in Stuttgart, Germany, said in an e-mail message on Friday that the Africa Command has positioned unarmed remotely piloted aircraft in Niger to support a range of regional security missions and engagements with partner nations, Benson did not say how many aircraft or troops would eventually be deployed, but other American officials have said the base could eventually have as many as 300 United States military service members and contractors, the paper added.