Other U.S. officials said the Pentagon is planning a new drone base in northwestern Africa — most likely in Niger — but the plans are not yet complete. It would provide more extended U.S. aerial surveillance of militants in the region without risking the loss of air crews. The main U.S. drone base in Africa is in Djibouti in East Africa.
Niger has accepted the idea of hosting unarmed U.S. drones as well as conventional and special operations troops to advise and assist Niger's military on border security, but it has not endorsed armed U.S. Predator strikes or the launching of U.S. special operations raids from their territory, according to a senior U.S. military official briefed on the matter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
Africa is increasingly a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, even as al-Qaida remains a threat in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The recent terrorist attack on a natural gas complex in Algeria, in which at least 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed, illustrated the threat posed by extremists who have asserted power propelled by long-simmering ethnic tensions in Mali and the revolution in Libya.
A number of al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist groups operate in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahara, including a group known as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which originated in Algeria and is active in northern Mali. Earlier this month French forces intervened to stop the extremists' move toward Mali's capital, and Washington has grown more involved by providing a variety of military support to French troops.
In Addis Ababa on Tuesday, several African and Western nations pledged more than $450 million to fund an African-led military force to fight Islamist extremists in the Mali. And Britain announced it had offered to send up to 200 military officers to help train a West African force in Mali, including as many as 40 who could be sent as part of a European Union training mission of 500 personnel.