WASHINGTON, February 22 (RIA Novosti) President Barack Obama announced Friday that around 100 US troops have been deployed in the West African nation of Niger in what officials said was the establishment of a new drone base there to spy on Islamist fighters in the Sahara and support French forces in the region.
“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,” Obama said in a letter to Congress published on the White House website.
“The total number of US military personnel deployed to Niger is approximately 100,” he said.
US media, quoting unnamed Defense Department officials, reported separately that the deployment was part of the creation in Niger of a US base for drone aircraft to be used to gather intelligence on al-Qaida fighters and other Islamist militants operating in West Africa.
In a report on its website, NBC News said the Niger deployment would include two Raptor surveillance drones and up to 300 military personnel. The Washington Post meanwhile also quoted an unnamed Defense Department official as saying that drone operations from the base were “imminent.”
“The drone base in Niger marks the opening of another far-flung US military operation against al-Qaida and its affiliates,” the Post commented.
Obama said he had ordered the deployment of US forces to Niger “in furtherance of US national security interests” and was informing Congress of the order in line with the US War Powers Resolution – a law that determines the president’s prerogatives in conducting military operations outside the country.
France intervened militarily in Mali earlier this year after a US-trained Malian army captain backed by Islamist fighters took power in a coup.
The Russian foreign ministry on Friday separately called for increased international intervention in Mali to prevent the conflict there from spreading to other parts of West Africa.