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New US drone base in Niger

Mark Caldwell AFP, The Intercept
September 30, 2016

Drones flying out of a new base in central Niger are expected to focus on giving reconnaissance support to existing counterterrorism operations, analyst tells DW.

Karte Niger Agadez Englisch
Image: DW

The United States is investing $50 million (45 million euros) in a military air base, which will be capable of deploying drones, in Niger's central city of Agadez.  

Pentagon spokeswoman Michelle Baldanza said the US "has negotiated an agreement with the government of Niger to allow for the construction of a new runway and all associated pavements facilities and infrastructure," at the base in Agadez.

The Agadez site will belong to Niger and is not slated to become a US post like Djibouti, home to the only permanent US base on the African continent, she added.      

The US already has a military presence in Niger's southwestern capital of Niamey, where it has stationed MQ-9 Reaper drones, which can both carry weapons and conduct surveillance.

US-Drohnen in Afghanistan
A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone from a reconnaissance squadron in Kandahar, Afghanistan Image: picture alliance/ZUMA Press/Tsgt. Robert Cloys

Independent security analyst Ryan Cummings describes the use of drones as a ploy by the US government to support existing counterterrorism forces in the region as opposed to being directly involved in the fight against jihadist groups operating across the continent.

"There will be much focus on reconnaissance in these initiatives," he told DW. "You'll probably find that in certain areas the mandate of these drones will differ. We have seen that in Somalia, for example, the United States uses drones for more offensive mandates against the al-Shabab Islamic extremist movement, but they might not necessarily replicate the same form of mandate in other countries where you already have international assistance in the form of counterterrorism operations."

Cummings said Niger was conspicuous in this regard in that the French military was already involved in the country as part of its wider Barkane operation.      

The online investigative publication The Intercept, which was involved in publishing documents by Edward Snowden, first reported the story. It says the Agadez base will cost not $50 million but $100 million. 

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