WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has deployed about 100 troops to the West African nation of Niger to conduct unmanned reconnaissance flights over Mali and share intelligence with French forces fighting al Qaeda-affiliated militants, US President Barack Obama told Congress on Friday.
"This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region," Obama said.
The United States and Niger signed a Status of Forces Agreement last month that governs the presence of American troops in the country, paving the way for sending unarmed drones and military personnel.
A Pentagon official said US Africa Command, which handles military ties with Africa, had sent the unmanned planes to Niger "to support a range of regional security missions and engagements with partner nations."
France intervened in Mali, which borders Niger, last month as Islamist forces, who seized control of the north in the confusion following a military coup in March 2012, pushed towards the capital Bamako.
Niger gave permission for US surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara, a senior Niger government source said in January.