- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2018

Months after an extremist attack killed four U.S. soldiers, the American military began arming drones in Niger in the latest example of how the use of lethal unmanned aircraft continues to extend across Africa and the Middle East.

In a statement to The Associated Press, military officials confirmed they’ve had armed-drone capability in the West African nation since early this year.

“In coordination with the government of Niger, U.S. Africa Command has armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft already in Niger to improve our combined ability to respond to threats and other security issues in the region. Armed ISR aircraft began flying in early 2018,” said Samantha Reho, spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command.

The drones are stationed at Niger’s Air Base 101 in Niamey, though military officials would not confirm whether they’ve used the unmanned craft to conduct actual strikes. The drones have enough to range to operate not just in Niger, officials said, and are capable of reaching other West and North African countries.

U.S. drones are expected to ultimately be moved to a massive new air base in central Niger that’s currently under construction.

The presence of armed drones in Niger — coupled with the presumption that they’ve already been used or eventually will be used for military strikes — marks the latest expansion of U.S. use of the craft around the world. Citing authority under the 2001 and 2002 military use authorizations passed by Congress, the Bush, Obama and now Trump administrations have used drone strikes extensively outside the formal combat areas of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Drone strikes have become commonplace in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere across the region.

The decision to arm U.S. drones in Niger came after an October 2017 attack by extremists linked to the Islamic State killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded two others.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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