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Obama Deploys Drones, Troops to New Base in West Africa

A letter sent Friday from President Barack Obama to Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy marked the official expansion of the United States military drone program into West Africa. A drone base will be established in Niamey, Niger, from which unarmed predator drones can begin surveillance of the region. The presence of Islamist extremists in Mali has prompted a powerful international response, creating a need for additional intelligence in the region. The only other permanent American military base in Africa is located in Djibouti. The letter noted that about 100 US service members have been deployed into Niger as a part of the operation.

“I directed this deployment of U.S. forces in furtherance of U.S. national security interests, and pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive,” the letter to the congressional leaders read.

The use of drones in the killings of Americans overseas has been a topic of debate in Washington, but military leaders claim the technology in Niger will only be used for surveillance and intelligence. Obama’s letter suggests that the program will also be used to support French counterterrorist operations in Mali.

“al-Qaida and other extremist groups have been operating in neighboring Mali. The deployment 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,” Department of Defense official Jim Garamone said in a statement.

Niger readily accepted the United States plan for a new base last month, with President Mahamadou Issoufou voicing security concerns. The country shares its western border with Mali, and a southern border with Nigeria, where jihadist organization Boko Haram has terrorized northern residents. The presence of American troops and drones could provide a possible deterrent against attacks by militants, and drive away terrorists looking to flee Mali.

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