The United States of America is planning to establish a drone base in Niger, a country sandwiched between Nigeria and Mali, two nations that have been under attack from Islamic militants.
The drone base, according to a report in last Sunday's edition of the New York Times, will give the US military command increased unmanned surveillance missions on the activities of Boko Haram and other extremist groups in West Africa that are affiliated to Al Qaeda and other sectarian groups.
With the establishment of the drone base, the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which has proved successful in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the goal is to limit risks involved with the use of humans and as well improve intelligence gathering around the desert belt connecting North and West African.
The report of the planned establishment of the drone base in Niger came on the heels of international efforts to rout out Islamic insurgents from Mali.
Nigeria, which is part of the international military coalition in Mali, has so far expended $32 million on its military expedition in the Sahelian nation, just as it has so far deployed 776 troops in the war-torn country.
More troops, to make up the 1,200 contingent Nigeria is contributing to the peace efforts, are expected to leave for Mali next week, THISDAY has learnt.
In order to sustain the peace efforts in Mali, a donors' conference was held yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to raise funds for the military expedition during which global donors pledged the donation of $455.53 million.
When THISDAY made enquiries Tuesday from the Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Olusola Obada, how the plan by the US to establish the drone base in Niger would affect Nigeria's security, especially the fight against Boko Haram terror, she said on the phone that government was reviewing the situation.
"I will make consultations and get across to you," she added.
When contacted some hours later, she directed all enquiries to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim and Defence Headquarters for more information on the issue.
According to some military sources, who spoke with THISDAY on the issue, the plan has "been in the pipeline by the US African Command (USAFRICOM), especially to monitor the activities of Boko Haram and their growing links with international terrorist organisations like the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM).
"However, it is like they are taking the decision seriously owing to the ongoing development in Mali, with Niger already providing a base for both Nigeria and other foreign troops."
Another military source, who disclosed that the US already has a base in Niger, added that the drone base is also expected to provide intelligence and assist the French mission and war efforts in Northern Mali.
"It is part of the war efforts in Mali, which provides for both short and long-term measures as you are aware that the US already had some existing secret base in Niger," the source said.
When he visited Nigeria last month, the Commander, USAFRICOM, Gen Carter Ham, had at the Nigerian Defence College (NDC) expressed concern over the increasing connectivity and collaboration between the network of Al-Qaeda affiliates and adherents in Africa, including the Boko Haram sect.
Ham while speaking on areas of common interests and challenges between Nigeria and US, explained that since the Al-Qaeda core has been significantly weakened, the group has simply mutated into various affiliate organisations, especially in the Middle East and Africa that are increasingly coordinating resources and intelligence to carry out their terrorist acts.
He had explained that the Al-Qaeda networks and affiliates, including Boko Haram, were changing in ways that increase threats to individual African states and regional stability, as well as to the US and international security interests.
THISDAY was also informed that Niger is strategic for the US, Nigeria and Africa's fight against terrorism as it is a gateway between the North, West, East and Central Africa, with Nigeria's porous northern border being of great concern.
In Addis Ababa Tuesday, President Goodluck Jonathan at a fundraiser for the military expedition in Mali, restated Nigeria's commitment to the success of the exercise, stressing that this had informed the Federal Government's commitment of human and material resources in the bid to recapture the country from the Islamic militants.
Jonathan, speaking at the end of the 20th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said Nigeria has so far expended $32 million on its military expedition in Mali.
The money, he added, was spent on troops' deployment and logistics support for the contingent.
At the fundraiser, global donors pledged the donation of $455.53 million, exceeding by far the previous target of $50 million set by the AU.
Jonathan explained that besides the $32 million that Nigeria had spent on troops deployment and logistics, the Federal Government would spend an additional $5 million to assist the war-torn country.
He added that the extra $5 million was in response to demands for more donations.
Expressing Nigeria's commitment to the international effort to restore normalcy in Mali, the president also stated that his administration had
re-constructed and refurbished some health facilities in Malian defence barracks, a project which he said cost Nigeria $5.5 million under the Security Sector Reform (SSR) intervention.
He said Nigeria as part of the international initiative being undertaken by the AU, ECOWAS, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN), aimed at mobilising adequate financial resources in support of the Malian Defence and Security Forces (MDSF) as well as AFISMA, would not shirk its responsibility towards the global efforts to rout out the Islamic insurgents from Mali.
He said: "The collaboration between these four organisations on this initiative is a clear demonstration of international solidarity, sympathy and cooperation required for a definitive resolution of the Malian crisis which has serious international consequences.
"Specifically, Nigeria has commenced the deployment of 900 combat soldiers and 300 air force personnel to Mali as part of AFISMA. Nigeria has so far provided about $32 million for the immediate deployment and logistic support for the troops.
"Prior to this, Nigeria dispatched relief and humanitarian relief and supplies amounting to US$2 million and Nigeria has undertaken the re-construction and refurbishment of a number of clinics in the military barracks of some of the Malian Defence and Security Forces, as part of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) intervention to the tune of US$5.5 million."
Recalling his efforts as a co-mediator in the crisis since October 2012, he said that the antidote to the crisis is the implementation of the ECOWAS road map for the resolution of the crisis.
"For this reason, the pledge (of $5million) I make today (yesterday) is a further expression of our commitment to a worthy international effort," he said.
He urged the conference to use the funds so raised not only for defence and security matters, but also for the provision of necessary humanitarian support.
The president pointed out that the situation in Mali called for cooperation, sacrifice and action on the part of strategic partners, the countries of the sub-region, Africa and indeed the entire international community.
Chairman of the AU and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, said in his remarks that the funds pledged at the conference could assist to mobilise the necessary resources to maintain the gains of the military expedition and re-energise the political process in Mali.
So far, Nigeria has deployed 776 troops in Mali and more members of the contingent that will make up the 1,200 troops Nigeria has pledged are expected to leave for Mali next week.
The first batch of the Nigerian contingent, comprising members of the Nigerian Air Force and Army, left Nigeria on January 17 via Port Harcourt and Kaduna under the aegis of the Africa-led International Mission in Mali (AFISMA) spearheaded by ECOWAS.
However, THISDAY learnt that Nigerian troops have not been embedded with the French troops that were already in the country fighting with Malian soldiers to chase away the insurgents.
A defence ministry source further revealed that not all members of ECOWAS had deployed their troops in Mali.