President Trump has resuscitated the CIA's covert drone program that former President Barack Obama had mostly handed over to the more publicly accountable Defense Department in his second term, and the CIA expanded its operations this year into northeastern Niger, The New York Times reports. U.S. and Nigerien officials tell the Times that the CIA has been using drones to surveil suspected al Qaeda and Islamic State militants in southern Libya and the adjacent Sahel region of Niger, Chad, Mali, and Algeria.
The drones, which fly out of a recently expanded airfield in the oasis town of Dirkou, have not been used yet in lethal missions, a U.S. official tells the Times, but they almost certainly will be in the near future. "All I know is they're American," said Niger's interior minister, Mohamed Bazoum. The Pentagon's Africa Command has conducted five drone strikes on al Qaeda and ISIS targets in southern Libya this year, but the CIA's Dirkou base is closer to the target area.
Obama all but shuttered the CIA's drone program amid backlash against covert strikes that killed civilians. The U.S. government couldn't officially discuss or confirm the covert strikes, which were being widely reported in the media. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was CIA director, convinced Trump to revive the CIA drone program. Along with Niger, the Times says, the CIA has limited drone programs in Afghanistan for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for strikes in Yemen. You can read more about the program at The New York Times. Peter Weber