July 10, 2013 By ERIC SCHMITT - nytimes.com
NIAMEY, Niger — Nearly every day, and sometimes twice daily, an unarmed American drone soars skyward from a secluded military airfield here, starting a surveillance mission of 10 hours or more to track fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda and other militants in neighboring Mali.
The two MQ-9 Reapers that are based here stream live video and data from other sensors to American analysts working with French commanders, who say the aerial intelligence has been critical to their success over the past four months in driving jihadists from a vast desert refuge in northern Mali.
The drone base, established in February and staffed by about 120 members of the Air Force, is the latest indication of the priority Africa has become for the United States at a time when it is winding down its presence in Afghanistan and President Obama has set a goal of moving from a global war on terrorism toward a more targeted effort. It is part of a new model for counterterrorism, a strategy designed to help local forces — and in this case a European ally — fight militants so American troops do not have to.