WASHINGTON – The US military is considering setting up drone bases in northwest Africa,
the New York Times reported Tuesday.
Washington aims to use the bases to bolster surveillance of al-Qaeda's
operatives and affiliates in the region, as well as on other Islamist extremists, in a bid to fight terrorism's grip on the region.
According to the report, the US Army is likely to set up a drone base in Niger, on the eastern border of Mali, where French forces are currently waging a campaign against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,
a military official told the American newspaper.
If the plan is approved by the Pentagon,
the US could send up to 300 US military service members and contractors to the area.
US Africa Command was also looking at an alternative location for the base in Burkina Faso, the official told the newspaper.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland,
however, reiterated that there are "no plans" to commit US troops to any ground operations.
"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," she said.
The United States and Niger
signed a "status of forces" agreement on Monday, which will provide legal safeguards for any American forces in the country.
The Pentagon secures such agreements for base arrangements or troop deployments.
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