The slow westward spread of the Predator Empire has settled in the capital of Niger, Niamey. The U.S. Air Force has now flown a handful of unarmed drones since February in the former French colony. While unarmed, the drones lend useful intelligence data to the French military in its conflict against Islamists in Mali, and are therefore part of an expanding African “kill chain”.
According to the Washington Post, President Issoufou Mahamadou said “We welcome the drones,” citing the spread of militants across the Sahara and the Sahel. The President added, “We rely on countries like France and the United States. We need cooperation to ensure our security.”
U.S. officials said they share video footage and other intelligence collected by the unmanned aircraft with French forces and African troops — including 670 soldiers from Niger — who are fighting the Islamist insurgency in Mali. Liaison officers from Niger, France and Chad work alongside U.S. Air Force personnel who launch and land the drones from the base in Niamey.
Last month, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the U.S. military had designated “a handful of high-value individuals” in North Africa for their suspected connections to al-Qaeda, making them potential targets for capture or killing.
The Pentagon has so far declined to comment on the duration of its presence in Western Africa. But the signs point to a permanent stay, after the Obama administration signed legal agreements with the Niger government that provides judicial protection (immunity) for U.S. troops. According to the President Mahamadou,
“I can’t tell you how long they will be here,” “How long it will take to stabilize Mali is one factor. The stabilization of Libya is another.”
For the ordinary Nigerien, there is little transparency, and the the nation’s history of colonialism remains a sensitive issue. Most, however, are strongly opposed to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.