American interest in Niger began with it serving as a host for a US drone base. This has escalated over the years, largely behind closed doors, until the US has ended up with 1,000 ground troops there and centering a regional military campaign out of Niger.
But there’s always more escalation to be done, and while the recent ambush that killed four US troops did reveal the current level of ground troops in the country, something that virtually no one knew, it’s also set the stage for arming drones in the country and carrying out drone strikes.
Niger has apparently been resisting the drone strikes for some time, but the deaths of the US troops are the gift that keeps on giving for US African Command, allowing them to argue that it proves the need for the US to have such permission.
Normally, the US doesn’t bother with permission for its drone killing programs, but since Niger is hosting the base, it makes the kill-first, discuss-later strategy more risky, especially given the checkered history of US strikes killing few identified people and a lot of random “suspects.”