The Trump administration is paving the way for lethal strikes against terrorists in Niger as the U.S. military pushes forward with a plan to arm the Reaper drones that fly over that country, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.
France has already decided to arm its drones in the region, U.S. documents show that the move to arm U.S. Reapers has been under consideration for some time — long before this month's ambush of a Green Beret unit that resulted in the deaths of four American soldiers. But that incident, details of which are still coming to light, is fueling an urgency within the
Trump administration to take more aggressive steps against the terrorist groups that are operating in North and West Africa, according to intelligence and military officials.
In the wake of the attack, the U.S. has been pressing the government of Niger to allow armed drones at the U.S. bases in that country, three U.S. officials told NBC.
A move to expand U.S. drone strikes to Niger would amount to a significant escalation in American counterterrorism operations. There have been occasional U.S. drone strikes reported in Libya and Somalia, but most of Africa has not been part of the U.S. drone war, which has focused on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
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"It demonstrates that the U.S. is expanding its use of lethal force … in the war on terror," said Juan Zarate, a former Bush administration counterterrorism adviser and NBC News analyst.