| DAKAR, Sept 30
DAKAR, Sept 30 The United States military said
on Friday it is building a $100 million temporary base for
surveillance drones in Agadez, central Niger, to help the West
African country combat militant groups and protect its borders.
Niger, a security ally of the West, is grappling
simultaneously with incursions from jihadist group Boko Haram
across its southern border with Nigeria as well as roaming al
Qaeda-linked groups in its vast desert spaces.
Security sources have also expressed concern about a
possible southern influx of Islamic State fighters into Niger
and Chad from Libya where they are retreating from Libyan
"At the request of, and in close coordination with, the
Government of Niger, United States Africa Command is
establishing a temporary, expeditionary cooperative security
location in Agadez, Niger," said a U.S. Africa Command
spokesperson in an emailed response to Reuters.
"Agadez is an ideal, central location to enable ISR
collection (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) to
face the security threat across the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin
region," she said. The $100 million covered initial costs for
construction, fuel and equipment.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou was re-elected in
March having promised to boost security in the poor, semi-arid
state. However, the southern region of Diffa, which borders the
Boko Haram stronghold in northeastern Nigeria, is still in a
state of emergency and subject to regular attacks.
Government officials in Niger were not immediately available
for comment on Friday.
The United States first said it was considering establishing
a drone facility adjacent to an existing Agadez airbase in 2014.
It already has forces in Niger's capital Niamey and will
eventually relocate them to Agadez, the U.S. Africa Command
spokesperson added. Intelligence gathered by the drones will be
shared with other partners in the region such as Nigeria, Chad,
Mali among others, she said.
Agadez is also a major transit point for African migrants
seeking a northwards path towards Europe.
The new facility is the latest example of the United States'
deepening military ties with the fragile Sahel region, a
semi-arid band stretching from Senegal to Sudan.
In May, it signed a defence deal with Senegal to ease the
deployment of troops to the country.
France also has strong military ties with Niger, including a
base in northern Niger, and has 3,500 troops spread across the
Sahel combating Islamist fighters.
(Editing by Joe Bavier and Richard Balmforth)