Niger (Yes, Next to Mali) to Host US Drones Deal opens possibility of US military presence By Matt Cantor, Newser User Posted Jan 29, 2013 9:39 AM CST 26 comments Comments In this photo taken Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, provided by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office, a French soldier directs helicopters near Timbuktu, north Mali. (ECPAD, Arnaud Roine) (Newser) – Niger's president has agreed to let the US use the country—which borders Mali—as a base for surveillance drones, a source tells Reuters. The drones would be used to spy on militants with al-Qaeda ties in Mali and the Sahara as a whole, according to the insider, who says President Mahamadou Issoufou didn't hesitate to approve yesterday's request. Reuters reports drones could end up being stationed in the deserts of the country's north, which abuts Algeria and Libya as well. For its part, the Wall Street Journal reports that drone-base talks remain preliminary, but it sees a military agreement signed yesterday as greasing the way for what it calls an "open-ended campaign" against North and West African militants. That deal, which bestows legal protections on US troops in Niger, has been in the works since last year, though talks were stepped up when France began its Mali operation. There are currently fewer than 50 US troops in Niger, and it's not clear how many could be based there in the future.