The Defense Department has received permission from the Nigerien government to arm its MQ-9 Reaper drones operating in the African country.

The drones will fly out of Niamey, Niger’s capital, a State Department official said Friday.

The plan will put more firepower in the region but will also require additional American troops.

Additional pilots and aircraft may also be needed. There are 800 U.S. personnel in Niger, most of whom are based at Niamey’s airport.

It’s not yet clear if the drones will provide better close air support of U.S. forces operating there, or if they are meant to expand strike capabilities against militants in the region.

The ability of the United States to provide adequate close air support and surveillance in Niger was questioned after the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in an ambush involving at least 50 militants near the Mali border on Oct. 4. French fighter aircraft arrived from Mali an hour after the attack but did not fire or drop any munitions, and French attack helicopters arrived later. The United States had an unarmed surveillance drone in the air during the fight. [source]

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