WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) —
The U.S. military wants to put a drone base in northwestern Africa to deal with the threat of Islamic terrorists operating in the region, officials say.
The New York Times reported Monday officials say only unarmed surveillance drones are anticipated for the time being though arming the unmanned aircraft with missiles would be an option if the situation deteriorates.
The newspaper said the drone base, still in the planning stage and in need of Pentagon and White House approval, would most likely be in Niger, which borders restive Mali in the east.
The U.S. military’s Africa Command is discussing its plans with other countries in the region, including Burkina Faso, officials said.
"This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]," an unnamed U.S. military official told the Times Sunday.
The U.S. military has a permanent base in Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali, and a few other small air bases in Africa.
The Times said Niger officials did not respond to emails during the weekend about the proposed drone base but noted President Mahamadou Issoufou has expressed an interest in establishing what he called in an interview this month "a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S."
"What’s happening in northern Mali is a big concern for us because what’s happening in northern Mali can also happen to us," Issoufou said.
U.S. Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of the Africa Command, visited Niger this month to discuss cooperation on security matters. He declined to comment on the proposed drone base, saying in an email to the Times the subject was "too operational for me to confirm or deny."