The United States has decided to establish a new drone base in Niger in West Africa, staffed by up to 300 U.S. military intelligence, logistics and security personnel.
The surprise announcement came last week in the midst of Pentagon and other administration caterwauling about how America’s defenses will be jeopardized by the military spending cuts that will occur if Congress does not head off the sequester mandated to begin on Friday.
What goes on in landlocked Niger, neighboring Mali and other African countries in the region has little or nothing to do with the United States. France, the former colonial power in the region, has an estimated 4,000 troops in Mali fighting Islamist rebels opposed to the country’s government, which was installed in a coup d’etat in March. The United States has provided the French support in the form of intelligence (some obtained by drones, unmanned aircraft), transport and refueling facilities for fighter jets.
Another worrisome element in President Barack Obama’s decision to set up a base in Niger, a country of 16 million, is that the United States is likely to become committed to a degree to supporting the government in power of that country. Niger has a track record of many military coups and other non-democratic changes of government since independence in 1960.
It is very hard to imagine why the United States is doing this, particularly as it must cut back its military expenditures.