The US Central Intelligence Agency’s drone program in Africa is expanding, the New York Times said on September 10.
Just south of the Libyan border, a covert military base in Dirkou, Niger has been deploying fleets of drones on surveillance missions for several months, a Defense Department spokeswoman, Major Sheryll Klinkel told the NYT.
Klinkel denied the operation of any military missions from the small city airport, however satellite imagery shows five defensive positions, security checkpoints, and walls were constructed in February around the Duque airport.
Nigerien Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum was unable to give details on the drones, saying: “All I know is they’re American.”
Reports said the US presence in the region has grown from 100 military personnel to 800 people.
According to the city mayor, Boubakar Jerome, the aircraft have helped to lower the crime rate. However, during the Obama administration, CIA drone operations were curtailed due to the international backlash after hundreds of civilian deaths in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Though the Pentagon never took responsibilities for the attacks, program restrictions were introduced. Last year, the policy was changed after complaints from former CIA director Mike Pompeo, who said they were needless and impediments to US counterterrorism efforts.
NYT journalists have reported sightings of “Predator” drones, measuring 27 feet long. Such drones have caused scores of civilian deaths since the early 2000s.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, more than 3500 victims have died from US airstrikes in Afghanistan since 2015, of which about 300 were civilians.
[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]