The US has concluded a SOFA, status of forces agreement, with Niger, and is setting up a drone base there. Craig Whitlock writes:
The base in Niger marks the opening of another far-flung U.S. military front against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, adding to drone combat missions in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The CIA is also conducting drone airstrikes against al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Yemen.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide details about military operations, said that the 40 troops who arrived in Niger on Wednesday were almost all Air Force personnel and that their mission was to support drone flights.
The drones will be based at first in the capital, Niamey. But military officials would like to eventually move them north to the city of Agadez, which is closer to parts of Mali where al-Qaeda cells have taken root.
“That’s a better location for the mission, but it’s not feasible at this point,” the official said, describing Agadez as a frontier city “with logistical challenges.”
The introduction of Predators to Niger fills a gap in U.S. military capabilities over the Sahara, most of which remains beyond the reach of its drone bases in East Africa and southern Europe.
The Pentagon also operates drones from a permanent base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and from a civilian airport in Ethi o pia.
The U.S. military has been flying small turboprop surveillance planes over northern Mali and West Africa for years, but the PC-12 spy aircraft have limited range and lack the sophisticated sensors that Predators carry.
The United States is now carrying out surveillance all along the coasts of Africa and continually increasing surveillance from the air. The map above is just the beginning. There will be more political assassin robots flying in African skies.