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US troops sent to Niger to bolster military presence in west Africa

President Obama confirms in letter to Congress that military personnel will help French counterparts in neighbouring Mali

Barack Obama confirmed on Friday that 100 members of the US military have been sent to Niger to support French troops fighting militants in neighbouring Mali.

In a letter to Congress, the president said the soldiers would be tasked with collecting and sharing intelligence with French forces and other partners in the region.

It comes as part of a growing American presence in west Africa. Last month Washington signed a deal with the government in Niger, which appeared to open the door to US drone bases in the country.

The agreement is thought to cover only unmanned surveillance drones at present, but it could pave the way for armed drones in the near future.

“There are no constraints to military-to-military co-operation within the agreement,” a diplomatic source told the Guardian last month.

The deployment was made “in furtherance of US national security interest,” Obama’s letter said. It comes as Washington shifts military resources increasingly towards Africa and Asia.

In Mali, French-led troops have succeeded in sweeping militants from key cities in the country’s north. France has said it is now engaged in last stage of its Mali operation, focusing on the last remaining holdouts in the country’s mountainous border to the north with Algeria.