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Associated Press

(French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD/ Associated Press )

(French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD/ Associated Press )

WASHINGTON — Plans to base unarmed American surveillance drones in the African nation of Niger highlight the Obama administration’s growing concern about extremist influences in the volatile region. They also raise tough questions about how to contain al-Qaida and other militant groups without committing U.S. ground forces in yet another war.

In the short run, a drone base would enable the U.S. to give France more intelligence on the militants that French troops are fighting in neighboring Mali. Over time it could extend the reach not only of American intelligence gathering but also U.S. special operations missions to strengthen Niger’s own security forces.

The U.S. and Niger in recent days signed a “status of forces agreement” spelling out legal protections and obligations of American forces that might operate in Niger in the future. Read More

Ali Akbar Dareini and Brian Murphy | Associated Press

Iranian TV showed images of what was said to be a ScanEagle. The American Navy said none of its drones were missing.

Iranian TV showed images of what was said to be a ScanEagle. The American Navy said none of its drones were missing.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran claimed Tuesday it had taken another prize in a growing showdown with Washington over drone surveillance, displaying a purported U.S. unmanned aircraft it said was captured intact. The U.S. Navy, however, said none of its drones in the region was missing.

The conflicting accounts could put pressure on both sides for more details on U.S. reconnaissance and Iranian counter-measures.

They also point to other questions, including how Iran could manage to snatch the Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone without noticeable damage to its light-weight, carbon-fiber body or whether the aircraft could be from another Gulf country that deploys it.

There is even the possibility the drone is authentic but was plucked from the sea after a past crash and unveiled for maximum effect amid escalating tensions over U.S. reconnaissance missions — including a Predator drone coming under fire from Iranian warplanes last month. Read More

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