U.S. sends troops to Niger for drone missions
President Obama says the 100-troop deployment will help France in its effort to drive militants out of northern Mali.
By David S. Cloud and Kathleen Hennessey, Los Angeles Times
8:28 PM PST, February 22, 2013
WASHINGTON — About 100 U.S. troops have deployed to the West African country of Niger to help establish a drone base for surveillance missions, in the latest step by the United States to aid French forces battling Islamic militants in neighboring Mali.
In a letter to Congress on Friday, President Obama said the deployment would "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."
The last 40 American troops in the deployment arrived in Niger on Feb. 20 with the consent of the government, Obama said.
A senior U.S. officer described the troops as a security unit that will protect crews flying and maintaining U.S. Air Force drones now operating from an airfield near the capital, Niamey. The force includes drone pilots, intelligence liaison officers and aircraft maintenance personnel, the officer said.
"We're basing drones there to help the French, and this deployment is the security element," the officer said.
He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the operation publicly.
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