The New York Times reported last this week that the Defense Department plans to build a drone base in northwest Africa to enable it keep a closer eye on African organizations believed to be associated with the larger al-Qaeda network.

U.S. intelligence officials insist that the threat from regional al-Qaeda branches is growing and believe that more frequent surveillance can reduce the danger.

The move, the Times reports, is “an indication of the priority Africa has become in American antiterrorism efforts.” The story notes that the current U.S. military presence is mostly confined to one permanent base in Djibouti.

Beyond the official base, the United States maintains a “constellation of small airstrips” in the area that are used to launch drones tasked with tracking the movements of suspected “militants.”

It is reported that should the new base get the green light from Congress, Niger is the likely location for it.

The proximity of Niger to Mali cannot be overlooked. As The New American has reported, President Obama has once again sidestepped the Constitution and Congress and committed the United States to supporting the United Nation’s war on rebels in Mali. The armed forces of the socialist government of France are taking the lead in the combat operations in Mali.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta backed his boss’s drive to bolster the U.S. presence in that conflict. He told reporters that the Obama administration was preparing to provide air support and logistics information to the French military. At that same press conference, Secretary Panetta insisted that “at this time” there was no plan to deploy U.S. ground forces to Mali, but that the president would continue offering whatever level of support the war effort required.

An official quoted in the New York Times story confirms the connection between Mali and the proposed air base. “This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom [the United States Africa Command] a more enduring presence for I.S.R. [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance],” the American official told the Times.

The military officials cited in the story estimate that “as many as 300 United States military and contractor personnel” would be stationed at the new African air base.

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