US plans drone base near Mali
WASHINGTON: The US military plans to set up a base for drones in northwest Africa to bolster surveillance of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the region and allied Islamist extremists, a US official said on Monday.
The base for the robotic, unmanned aircraft would likely be located in Niger, on the eastern border of Mali, where French forces are currently waging a campaign against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), said the official.
The base was first reported by the New York Times on Monday.
The airfield would allow for better intelligence gathering by unarmed drones on the movement of AQIM and other militants, which Washington considers a growing threat, the official said.
If the plan gets the green light, up to 300 US military service members and contractors could be sent to the base to operate the drone
aircraft, according to the New York Times. US Africa Command was also looking at an alternative location for the base in Burkina Faso, the official said.
But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated that there are no plans to commit US troops to any fighting on the ground.
“The US military is not going to be engaged in combat operations in Mali,” she stressed, “and we don’t expect US forces to become directly involved on the ground in combat either”.—AFP