US moves drones to northern Niger

Washington - The US military will shift its drone flights in Niger from Niamey to a base further north, allowing Washingon to better track Islamist fighters in the region, a defence official said on Tuesday.

The United States started drone surveillance flights out of Niger in early 2013 to support French forces fighting Islamist militants in northern Mali.

Washington had always intended to move the operation further north and now the details have been worked out to relocate the flights to a base in Agadez, about 800km from Niamey, said the US defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"When we were invited to establish a base, it was agreed at that point that we were gong to start operations in Niamey and later move north," the defence official told AFP.

The northern location will give the unmanned, robotic aircraft easier access to a desert route linking southern Libya and northern Mali, which is used to move arms and Islamist fighters.

Plans to fly out of Agadez were first reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday.

Officials did not say how many aircraft, either unmanned or manned, would operate from the Agadez airfield.

The US Air Force in July put out a request for bids to re-pave the runway at Manu Dayak Airfield in Agadez, saying final funding depended on approval from Niger.

And in February, the US Defence Logistics Agency called for bids to deliver jet and diesel fuel to the Agadez airfield later this year.

The French military also flies drones out of the same base at Niamey, including two US-made Reaper aircraft.