US pressing Niger to allow armed drones: report

US pressing Niger to allow armed drones: report
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The Trump administration is pushing forward with a plan to arm its drones flying over Niger in the wake of a deadly ambush that killed four U.S. Army soldiers earlier this month, according to an NBC News report.

The plan to arm U.S. Reaper drones in the African nation has been under consideration for some time and predates the Oct. 4 attack, but that ambush has increased the sense of urgency within the administration to do so, NBC News reported.

Since the attack, the U.S. has pressed the Nigerien government to allow it to keep armed drones on its bases in the country, according to the report.

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The move would mark a dramatic escalation in the United States' use of drones to conduct counterterrorism operations in Africa. There have been occasional strikes in Libya and Somalia, but drones have not typically been used on the continent.

According to NBC News, France has already moved to use armed drones in the region, which is seen by U.S. officials as particularly vulnerable to recruitment by extremist militant groups, like al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers earlier this month has prompted questions from lawmakers about the operation. About a dozen U.S. troops were accompanying Nigerien soldiers on what U.S. officials said was a routine patrol when the attack took place.

The Pentagon has since launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ambush, including how one soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson, became separated from the unit. His body was recovered two days later.

NBC News reported Thursday, however, that the mission was more complex and that the Green Berets involved were conducting a counterterrorism operation. They had been tracking a militant in support of a secretive joint U.S.-French intelligence collection unit.

U.S. forces in Niger do not currently have a combat roll, according to the report.