About 100 combat-armed troops have been deployed to the west African nation of Niger as part of an effort to provide “intelligence sharing” capabilities with French troops operating in Mali, where Islam militants have gained a foothold, President Barack Obama said on Friday.
Obama, in a letter to Congress, said the U.S. forces were deployed with weapons “for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security.”
Last month, the U.S. and Niger signed an agreement that provided the legal ground rules for sending U.S. troops to the country.
“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 stated.
“However, I can tell you that U.S. Africa Command has positioned un-armed remotely piloted aircraft in Niger to support a range of regional security missions and engagements with partner nations,” said Chuck Prichard, an AFRICOM spokesman, in a statement. “This effort is designed to promote regional stability in support of U.S. diplomacy and national security, and to strengthen relationships with regional leaders committed to security and prosperity.”
U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets are “vital to the national security of the United States and its African partners, and provide an unrivaled capability to harness information and make it useful to commanders,” the statement continued.
“AFAFRICA continues to support its partners, including France, against actors seeking to destabilize the region and threaten their citizens and sovereignty.”
The United States already has drones and surveillance aircraft stationed at several points around Africa. Its only permanent military base is in the small country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, more than 3,000 miles from Mali.
Niger gave permission for U.S. surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara, a senior Niger government source said in January.