President Obama announced the deployment of nearly 100 armed U.S. troops to the West African nation of Niger to send surveillance drones over Mali and share intelligence with French forces leading the fight against Islamist militants.
With the announcement, the Obama administration continues to straddle its previous position on Mali, which has been characterized by a dedication to help efforts to rid the nation of Al-Qaeda linked rebel group but also an avowal not to send troops directly into the fray.
The president said the mission will “further U.S. national security interests.”
“This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali and with other partners in the region,” Obama said in a letter to Congress last week. “The recently deployed forces have deployed with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security.”
While the current mandate only covers unmanned surveillance drones, details suggest that the government may expand its involvement to include the use of armed drones in the future. Last month, the Obama administration signed a deal with the Niger government that may lead to the operation of more U.S. drone bases in the country.
"There are no constraints to military-to-military co-operation within the agreement," an unnamed diplomatic source said about the agreement, according to British newspaper The Guardian.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)