The US President administration considers arming the US drones in Niger, NBC News reported. The US has long considered to arm its Reaper drones, but this month’s attack on a Green Beret unit that resulted in the deaths of four US soldiers expedited the issue.
A move to expand US drone strikes to Niger would amount to a significant escalation in American counterterrorism operations, according NBC. Most of Africa has not been part of the US drone war, which has focused on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
“It demonstrates that the U.S. is expanding its use of lethal force … in the war on terror,” said Juan Zarate, a former Bush administration counterterrorism adviser and NBC News analyst. “It also demonstrates that the war on terror is migrating.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces Joseph Dunford did not address the issue of armed drones when he discussed the Niger attack with reporters October 26. He said he had learned new information about the ambush, but declined to share it until it is verified.
Pentagon officials have blamed the attack on what they described as self-radicalized, ISIS-affiliated militants. The US troops had reportedly been embedded with a larger unit of Nigerien troops and were attacked as they left a meeting with local community leaders a few dozen kilometres from the remote town of Tongo Tongo. They have called in the air support about an hour after the firefight begun. French Mirage jets arrived on the scene approximately one hour later.
Some reports claimed US troops were on a mission to kill or capture a high-value target in the area, perhaps even Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the local faction of fighters that formally pledged allegiance to ISIS.
After the attack, the Pentagon said that the United States has about 1,000 troops in the Chad Basin, about 800 of whom are in Niger. Pentagon officials said the mission in Africa is about training partner nations in counterterrorism.