A secretive CIA base deep in the Sahara is expanding and could be used to launch drone strikes, The New York Times reported on Monday. The base was built three years ago in northern Niger and is currently used to carry-out drone surveillance flights.
The base is used mainly to keep an eye on southwestern Libya and parts of the Sahel region of Niger, Chad, and Mali. According to satellite imagery examined by the Times, the base in Dirkou, Niger, has grown significantly since it was first built in 2018.
The satellite images show the base added a new runway and increased security. The images also show what appears to be an MQ-9 Reaper drone taxiing to or from a hangar, which means drone strikes could be carried out from the base.
So far, there’s no public evidence that drone strikes have been launched from Dirkou. But CIA operations in Africa are very secretive and generally underreported, so it’s possible MQ-9s have launched airstrikes from the base.
The US military operates drones out of two bases in Niger. One in the capital Niamey and the other is in the city of Agadez. France has about 5,100 troops stationed in the Sahel region and uses the Niamey base to conduct its own drone strikes.
The Biden administration is currently conducting a review of counterterrorism operations and reportedly put temporary limitations on drone strikes. The limits require the CIA and military to get permission from the White House to conduct any drone strikes outside of countries where the US has a major military presence, like Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.