The United States says it will invest $50m in building a military air base in the city of Agadez in the southern Saharan state of Niger.
A spokesperson for the Pentagon told the BBC that the US had agreed to pay for a runway and "associated pavements, facilities and infrastructure".
(The base is) considered the most important US military construction effort in Africa
It is understood that the base will be used as a centre for the US air force’s MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are a larger and more modern version of the MQ-1 Predator model which the US has deployed at some 60 bases around the world.Â
Northwest Africa has seen a rise in Islamist violence over the past five years. As well as attacks by the group Boko Haram in Nigeria, Mali was recently engulfed in civil war, in which the French military intervened on the side of the existing government against Tuareg rebels.
While the official cost estimate is $50m, The Intercept, an investigative news site covering US security issues, claims that it has documents obtained under a freedom of information request that put the value of the base at $100m.
It adds that the base, which will be completed next year, is "considered the most important US military construction effort in Africa".
Niger is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Sixth from bottom in the African GDP per capita table, it has the highest fertility rate in the world (7.57 births per woman), while half its 17 million people are under 15. An estimated 2.5 million people have no secure source of food, and only 14% of the population had access to electricity in 2012.
The US has increased its military presence in Africa since the formation of its Africa Command (Africom) headquarters in 2007. Then-President George W. Bush said the command was intended to "bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy and economic growth".
Image: The site of the drone port in Agadez (Google Earth)