The US CIA is set to launch drone strikes against suspected Libya-based jihadists with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group from a base in northeastern Niger, the New York Times reported.
Nigerien and US officials told the newspaper that Central Intelligence Agency operatives have been flying surveillance drones from a small airport in the town of Dirkou.
The airport has grown since February to include new runways and security posts, the Times reported late on Sunday, citing satellite images.
Niger’s Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum acknowledged the drone presence, but gave few details, while Dirkou Mayor Boubakar Jerome said the drones have helped improve the town’s security.
The move gives an expanded role to the CIA in drone strikes, a change carried out under President Donald Trump.
His predecessor, Barack Obama, had sought to put drone operations under military control, which is less secretive and more accountable than the CIA, the Times said.
The Pentagon operates a base in Niger’s capital Niamey, some 1287 southwest of Dirkou, from which it has launched lethal strikes against Libya-based jihadists, the Times reported.
Niger is one of several poor, fragile countries in the Sahel region hit by jihadist unrest.
Libya, which shares a border with Niger, has been thrown into chaos since the ouster of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011.