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Obama tells Congress US military personnel arrive in Niger

President Barack Obama. — Reuters picPresident Barack Obama. — Reuters picWASHINGTON, Feb 22 — About 40 US military personnel have arrived in Niger, President Barack Obama told Congress today, the last of a deployment of about 100 to help coordinate intelligence sharing with French forces operating in Mali.

The US forces are equipped with “weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security,” Obama said, and are there with Niger’s consent.

France intervened in Niger’s neighbor Mali last month as Islamist forces, who seized control of the north in the confusion following a military coup in March 2012, pushed towards the capital Bamako.

That had pushed Mali to the forefront of US and European security concerns, with fears the Islamists would turn the country into a base for international attacks.

Niger gave permission for US surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara, a senior Niger government source said in January.

The US ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, the source said. — Reuters

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