The Air Force may redeploy its remotely piloted aircraft in Niger, moving the drones to a remote area in the Sahara to better position them to watch Islamic militants in the area.
Last year, the Air Force deployed about 100 airmen and remotely piloted aircraft to Niamey in the southwestern region of Niger to “provide support for intelligence collection and … facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali,” President Obama wrote to Congress at the time. The deployment included Air Force security forces to protect the aircraft.
U.S. Africa Command is looking to move the aircraft about 450 miles north to Agadez. That city of about 88,000 people is the largest in the northern part of the country and has a small airstrip on its southern edge.
The move is at the request of, and in coordination with the government of Niger and the Nigerian Armed Forces, AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson said in a statement.
“Geographically and strategically, Agadez presents an attractive option from which to base [surveillance] assets given its proximity to the threats in the region and the complexity of operating with the vast distance of African geography,” Benson said. “The location in Agadez would improve AFRICOM’s capability to support Niger and other partner nations in the region and would improve our ability to respond to regional embassy and security issues.”
This location would be closer for crews to keep an eye on militants spreading in Libya to the north. A Nigerian official told Reuters that the country agreed to the U.S. presence to help secure the country’s borders against jihadist infiltrations from Libya.