The US is already using unarmed Reaper drones to gather intelligence in purported terrorist positions inside Niger but American military commanders want to be able to arms the aircraft like the French can, NBC News reported Wednesday, citing unnamed US military officials.
The officials said Washington has been pressing the government of Niger more aggressively to allow armed drones at the US bases there following the deadly October 4 ambush by Daesh terrorists near the country’s border with Mali.
The Pentagon revealed new details about the attack on Monday night but details of what happened remain murky more than two weeks after the incident.
According to General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, the American troops were on their way back to their base when they were ambushed by some 50 Daesh militants.
It took the US troops an hour to request backup, Dunford said, noting that armed French Mirage fighter jets arrived on scene two hours after the ambush began. Apparently, the pilots did not fire at the militants because they could not distinguish them from friendly forces.
However, US officials say an unarmed Reaper drone rushed to the site of the attack within minutes of the team’s call for help.
Expanding US drone strikes to Niger would amount to a significant escalation in the global American drone campaign. While the US military has conducted occasional drone strikes in Libya and Somalia, most of Africa has not been excluded from the drone war which is focused on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
Colonel Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said refused to talk about "possible initiatives by the administration," but said "the Department of Defense will always ensure our forces are properly equipped and have the necessary capabilities to accomplish their mission and defeat any threat."
Pentagon officials say US forces in Niger do not currently have a combat role and are rather gathering intelligence that could come in handy once the Trump administration authorizes lethal operations there.