The U.S. military command in Africa (AFRICOM) is planning to establish a drone base in northwest Africa to increase surveillance on radical Islamists in the region, Eric Schmidt of The New York Times reports.
The move would represent the latest expansion of the U.S. presence in Africa as the Pentagon recently announced plans to put specialized Army troops in 35 African countries.
In October Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post reported that each day about 16 U.S. drones take off from its base in the east African country of Dijbouti, which serves “the combat hub” for growing counterterrorism operations in the Somalia, Yemen and the Middle East.
Officials envision the new base to be placed in Niger or perhaps Burkina Faso, both of which share a border with Mali. Surveillance would provide details on the scope of the problem in Mali as well as the flow of fighters and weapons from Libya.
“This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],” one American military official told the Times.
Schmidt notes that the U.S. has flown turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft from Burkina Faso to Northern Mali, but the missions have only provided limited intelligence.
Earlier this month the U.S. reportedly sent a surveillance drone over the Algerian oil field that was seized by militants.
Africom’s plan still needs approval from the Pentagon, White House and Niger officials, but Schmidt cites indications that it will go forward. On Monday the two countries reached a status-of-forces agreement that provides legal protection to American troops in the country.
Furthermore Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has expressed a willingness to establish “a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S.”