Niger has given permission for US surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al Qaeda-linked fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara, according to a senior government source.
Bisa Williams, US ambassador to Niger, made the request at a meeting on Monday with Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger president, who immediately accepted it, the source said on Wednesday.
"Niger has given the green light to accepting [US] surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of
intelligence on Islamist movements," the source, who asked not to be identified, said.
|Niger will be the sixth US drone base in Africa [Al Jazeera]
The drones could be stationed in Niger's northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the
Niger will be the sixth African nation to have a US drone base. Other countries with drone bases include: Morocco, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Djibouti.
A spokesperson for the US African Command (AFRICOM) declined to comment.
After her talks with Issoufou, Williams said they had discussed economic and military co-operation and development issues.
She also expressed US appreciation for the French-led military mission to expel an alliance of al-Qaeda-linked fighters from northern Mali.
General Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, visited Niger last month.
The impoverished and landlocked West African state has said it wants to have closer security co-operation with the US.
Despite the controversy of the drone programme in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, Robert Densmore, former US naval flight officer and editor of Defence Report, says North Africa is much more likely to be accepting of the unmanned technology.
"Many people in North Africa rate the risk from al-Qaeda higher" than they did 12 months ago," he told Al Jazeera from London.
The US already has drones and surveillance aircraft stationed at several points around Africa.
Its only permanent military base is in the small country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, more than 5,000km from Mali.