19:56 GMT19 January 2021
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    The request came amid the growing controversy over the US military presence in Niger that was recently overshadowed by the death of four US Special Forces personnel in an ambush set up by extremists.

    "I asked them [the US] some weeks ago to arm them [the drones] and use them as needed," Defense Minister Kalla Mountari told Reuters in an interview.

    Asked if the US had accepted the request, the minister said, "Our enemies will find out."

    The comment has raised the stakes in a controversial US counter-insurgent operation in Niger that was launched in 2013, under former President Barack Obama.

    What started out as a small training campaign has now grown into an 800-strong force assisting the Nigerien military in intelligence gathering and other missions. The US is also building a $100 million drone base in Agadez from which the Pentagon would be able to launch reconnaissance operations and attack militants in Libya, Mali and Nigeria.

    Speaking with Reuters, an unnamed US official welcomed Mountari’s comments, suggesting that "armed drones would be helpful in protecting US troops and potentially targeting militants." The official, however, said that he was not aware of any agreement having been reached.

    The US military campaign in Niger has recently run the gauntlet following a deadly ambush in Niger on October 4, in which Islamists killed four American soldiers who were on a joint patrol with local troops. Those were the first casualties of the US anti-terrorism operation in the African country.

    READ MORE: FBI Joins Investigation Into Deadly Ambush of US Soldiers in Niger

    According to Mountari, Niger regards the American forces in the country as close partners.

    "We are working hand in hand. The clear proof is that the Americans and Nigeriens fell on the battlefield for the peace and security of our country," he said.

    According to Reuters, an expansion of the US military presence in Niger could prove unpopular both with Americans and in the African country. Drone operations are also controversial because of the infamous civilian death tolls caused by drone strikes.


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    military operation, Pentagon, US, Niger
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