WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Friday that about 100 American troops have been deployed to the African nation of Niger. Two U.S. defense officials said the troops would be setting up a base for unarmed drones to conduct surveillance.
Obama announced the deployment in a letter to Congress, saying that the forces "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."
The move marks a deepening of U.S. efforts to stem the spread of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the volatile region. It also underscores Obama's desire to fight extremism without involving large numbers of U.S. ground forces.
The drone base will allow the U.S. to give France more intelligence on the militants its forces have been fighting in Mali, which neighbors Niger. Over time, it could extend the reach not only of American intelligence-gathering but also U.S. special operations missions to strengthen Niger's own security forces.
One of the two U.S. defense officials who discussed the development confirmed the American troops would fly drones and other surveillance platforms from Niger military airstrips, tracking militant and refugee movement inside Mali and around the border. The U.S. will share that intelligence with Niger's military, the official said.
Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the project.
The drones at the Niger base will be unarmed and used for surveillance, not airstrikes. Still, the development of a base in Niger raises the possibility that it could eventually be used for launching strikes.
Obama said in his letter to Congress that the U.S. forces have been deployed with the consent of Niger's government. The forces were also deployed with weapons "for their own force protection and security," the president said.
Last month, the U.S. and Niger signed a status-of-forces-agreement spelling out legal protections and obligations of American forces that might operate in Niger in the future.
Africa is increasingly a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, even as al-Qaida remains a threat in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Last month's terrorist attack on a natural gas complex in Algeria, in which at least 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed, illustrated the threat posed by extremists who have asserted power propelled by long-simmering ethnic tensions in Mali and the revolution in Libya.
A number of al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist groups operate in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahara, including a group known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which originated in Algeria and is active in northern Mali. Last month, French forces intervened to stop the extremists' move toward Mali's capital, and Washington has grown more involved by providing a variety of military support to French troops.
France has said it will eventually pull out of its Mali operation so that African forces can help stabilize the West African country.
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- An Algerian government official says security forces have killed a dozen extremist fighters in northern areas outside the capital and uncovered an arms cache in an area known for attacks against security forces.
The official, who wasn't authorized to give the information publicly, said Saturday an army patrol killed eight extremists in Boumerdes, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) outside the capital, Algiers. The official said four fighters were killed in the northern Boukadir forest about 280 kilometers (175 miles) away.
Terrorist attacks have dropped dramatically in Algeria's populated north in recent years and are largely restricted to a small operations against local forces.
But President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said Saturday that fighting in neighboring Mali has raised the threat of "the terrorism that we never stop fighting."
N'DJAMENA, Chad (AP) -- The Chadian army says that its troops killed 65 Islamic extremist rebels and destroyed five vehicles in fierce fighting northern Mali.
The Chadian military said in a statement Saturday on state broadcasting that 13 Chadian soldiers were also killed and six were wounded in the fighting Friday in northern Mali.
The statement said the clashes were in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains of northeastern Mali.
Chad has deployed some 1,800 troops in Mali as part of the French-led military intervention begun in January to wrest control of northern Mali from the Islamic radicals linked to al Qaeda.
The Islamic rebels retreated to mountainous hideouts near Mali's northern border with Algeria, after being expelled at the end of January by French and Malian forces from the major towns in northern Mali.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- The former head of the United Nations, who helped save Kenya from spiraling deeper into election violence five years ago, is warning that intimidation, ethnic rivalry and violence could undermine Kenya's March presidential vote.
Kofi Annan said Saturday that Kenya is on a positive trajectory five years after post-election violence killed more than 1,000 people and forced some 600,000 from their homes.
Annan helped broker a political deal between the top two contenders for president. That deal saw Mwai Kibaki remain president and challenger Raila Odinga become prime minister.
Annan said he fears ethnic rivalry could see violence return when the nation votes March 4. It's likely the nation will see a run-off vote for president sometime in April that could have even more potential for violence.