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, and 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 said.
Beset by poverty, weak governance and insurgent movements, the African region that includes Niger and neighboring Mali is considered by U.S. officials to be a fertile recruiting ground for Al Qaeda and ISIS. U.S. officials believe the militants who ambushed the Green Berets belong to a group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS. President Obama declined to allow armed drones to fly over the region, but the military has been pressing for some time to reverse that decision, officials said.