Washington deployed military personnel and drones in Niger.
Former Iranian President M. Ahmadinejad and Niger´s President M. Issoufou in Niamey April 16 ,2013 Photo Credit FP/Photo Boureima Hama
On Wednesday, Niger´s Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum welcomed armed U.S. drones send to Niger to help in its battle against an armed Islamist threat and drug trafficking in the Sahara..
Washington also deployed about 100 military personnel in Niger after a French-led military operation in January destroyed an al Qaeda enclave in neighboring northern Mali.
Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou’s government, wants to further reinforce military ties with the West in order to collect intelligence and to conduct operations, Bazoum told in an press conference.
France has sent Special Forces to Niger to protect uranium mines, operated by its state-controlled nuclear energy company Areva, which are crucial to French electricity supplies.
Niger has reinforced its border patrols with an additional 3,000 troops but needs drones to take on groups of armed drug traffickers operating near the border regions with Mali, Algeria and lawless southern Libya.
An EU mission is training security forces to tackle the threat but their efficacy is constrained by a lack of aircraft, vehicles and weapons.
U.S. has been stepping up military cooperation with Issoufou’s government, elected in 2011 after a transition from a military coup and seen as one of the most stable in the turbulent Sahel region, and will hold annual regional military maneuvers, known as Operation Flintlock, in Niger next year.
May’s suicide attacks on Areva’s mine at Arlit and a military barracks in Agadez were launched by veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) group.
They claimed the assaults were retaliation for France’s military operation in Mali and Niger’s support for it.
The minister acknowledged that some Islamist fighters had returned to Niger after their defeat in Mali and were hiding in the region of Tassara and Tilaberi, close to the Malian border, and others remained in Mali.
Security concerns in Niger – where al Qaeda has carried out several kidnappings of Westerners – have hampered the development of uranium resources. In mid-2013, Australia’s Paladin Energy ceased exploration and declared force majeure in Niger.