US troops in Niger to set up drone base

US troops deployed
Posted at 10:36 PM, Feb 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-22 17:41:17-05

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two U.S. defense officials say American troops deployed to Niger will be setting up a base for unarmed surveillance drones.

Earlier Friday President Barack Obama announced in a letter to Congress that about 100 U.S. troops had been sent to the African nation.

He said the forces "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."

French troops have been fighting Islamic militants in Mali, which neighbors Niger.

One of the U.S. defense officials says the American troops would fly drones and other surveillance platforms from Niger military airstrips, tracking militant and refugee movement inside Mali and around the border.

The drones at the Niger base will be unarmed and used for surveillance, not airstrikes. Still, the development of a base in Niger raises the possibility that it could eventually be used for launching strikes.

Africa is increasingly a focus of U.S. counter terrorism efforts.