By Jim Kouri
In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy, President Barack Obama officially informed lawmakers of his deployment of military predator drones and American troops on Friday to the African country of Niger.
The letter indicated the drones may be used to support French counterterrorism operations in Niger’s neighbor Mali.
In his brief letter, Obama noted, “I directed this deployment of U.S. forces in furtherance of U.S. national security interests, and pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.”
The Pentagon claimed that the drones will be used surveillance and monitoring operations. While the Obama administration is facing criticism for a policy in which the U.S. government can use drones to kill American citizens overseas in certain cases, the news media are being told that the drones flying over Niger will not engage the enemy.
According to a former intelligence officer now an analyst for the National Association of Chiefs of Police, in addition to assisting the French Foreign Legion in Mali, the drones may be used to collect intelligence on the growing Islamist threat in North Africa.
“Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups have been operating in neighboring Mali. The deployment is designed to promote regional stability in support of U.S. diplomacy and national security, and to strengthen relationships with regional leaders committed to security and prosperity, Pentagon official Jim Garamone said.
“The Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets provide vital capabilities to the United States, African partners and other partners in the region. The unarmed UAVs “provide an unrivaled capability to harness information and make it useful to commanders,” he added.
France entered the fray against the Islamic terrorists in January. The action began with French airstrikes followed by deployment of about 5,000 troops, mostly special forces.
The U.S. has already helped to transport French troops and warfighting equipment into Mali. The Pentagon has said that the French government plans to start the withdrawal of its troops from Mali in March, after African Union nations send their own military forces to take over counterterrorism.