US to establish new drone base in northwest Africa: officials


A US Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport in 2010. Drones have been a key element of the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.


Massoud Hossaini

The United States is planning to set up a new drone base in Africa's northwest to monitor militant activity in the region, officials today told The New York Times

The plans have not yet received formal approval from the White House, but a top Niger government source told Reuters on Tuesday that they were receptive after discussing it with Bisa Williams, the US ambassador to Niger. 

"Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements," the source told Reuters on the condition of anonymity. 

The news comes as the French lead a military offensive against militants in Mali, highlighting growing concern over extremist activity on the continent. 

Senior defense officials on Monday confirmed the plans for the new drone base to Fox News and said Niger is the likely location. Niger borders Mali on the east.

Current plans for the base are said to be focused on increasing US monitoring in the region -- the drones would not carry weapons. But administration sources refused to rule out the possibility of using the base for missile strikes if threatened, according to NYT

The Atlantic's Wire was more explicit, saying "it doesn't take much imagination to find other uses for such an outpost or the planes that are based there," later adding that the move is "a clear signal that the US now considers North Africa to be a theater in the never-ending, non-declared war on terror (with lowercase letters)." 

No additional details on the proposed base were immediately available.