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US sends troops to Niger for drone missions

Obama, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the last 40 of the approximately 100 military personnel had arrived in Niger on Wednesday and were "deployed with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security." "This deployment 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 president said. The United States and Niger signed a Status of Forces Agreement last month that governs the presence of American troops in the country, paving the way for sending unarmed drones and military personnel. A Pentagon official said U.S. Africa Command, which handles military ties with Africa, had sent the unmanned planes to Niger "to support a range of regional security missions and engagements with partner nations."
 
"This effort is designed to promote regional stability in support of U.S. diplomacy and national security and to strengthen relationships with regional leaders committed to security and prosperity," the official said on condition of anonymity.
 
France intervened in Mali, which borders Niger, last month as rebels, who seized control of the north in the confusion following a military coup in March 2012, pushed towards the capital Bamako.
 
The United States already has drones and surveillance aircraft stationed at several points around Africa. Its only permanent military base is in the small country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, more than 3,000 miles (4,828 km) from Mali.
 
In recent months the Pentagon had decided to send troops to 35 countries on the African continent. American troops who will begin to serve in Africa are currently receiving training at the Fort Riley military base at Kansas state.
 
The American troops deployed in the 35 African countries will not participate in operations, but will conduct operations related to decisions signed by the US Secretary of Defense.

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