afrol News, 22 February - President Barack Obama today informed the US Senate that he had ordered the stationing of around 100 soldiers in Niger to support the French military operation in neighbouring Mali. The Niger government had agreed to the move, Mr Obama said.
The White House today sent out a short notice about the decision of President Obama to station American troops in Niger. The military personnel had been sent to the West African country at the direct orders of the US President "in furtherance of US national security interests," according to his letter to the Senate.
According to the President, "approximately 40 additional US military personnel" had been sent to Niger on Wednesday this week. Thereby, the total amount of US troop deployed in Niger stood at "approximately 100," Mr Obama confirmed. The newly deployed troops had been armed sufficiently to "provide their own force protection and security."
President Obama emphasised that the deployment of US troops in Niger had happened "with the consent of the government of Niger."
The destination of Mr Obama's troops is an extremely poor country at the southern edge of the Sahara desert, which has seen increased security problems after radical Islamists established strongholds in neighbouring Mali, and after French-Malian troops have driven the Islamists out of part of Mali and partly into Niger. The government in Niamey has been more than welcoming foreign troops that may help protect the country against the Jihadists.
Additionally, Niger is one of the world's leading producers of uranium. The uranium production is mainly controlled by French companies and to a large degree go to provide French nuclear power stations. Out of fear for similar attack on the remote uranium mines in northern Niger as on the Algerian gas field in In Amenas, France has also sent troops to protect its interests and citizens in Niger.
The French deployment in Niger is seen as an extra burden to its military operation in Mali. It is not known whether the new US troops in Niger will replace or assist the French security operation at Niger uranium mines, or whether they will be placed along the long and unmonitored border between Mali and Niger.
President Obama only made vague references to what the new US troops in Niger would do, but however indicated they would assist they were to assist the French operation in Mali. "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," Mr Obama wrote.
The deployment probably was made possible by the new strategic military agreement between Washington and Niamey, signed in late January this year. Pentagon spokesman George Little at the occasion said the deal was "very important" and would open up for at greater US military presence in Niger.
The US supports the French-led military operation in several ways, in particular with intelligence and equipment. But President Obama has ruled out sending American troops to Mali.
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