DIRKOU, Niger — The CIA is poised to conduct secret drone strikes against Al Qaeda and Islamic State insurgents from a newly expanded air base in the Sahara, making aggressive use of powers that were scaled back during the Obama administration but restored by President Trump.
Late in his presidency, Barack Obama sought to put the military in charge of drone attacks after a backlash over strikes that killed civilians. But now the CIA is broadening its drone operations.
Nigerien and US officials said the CIA had been flying surveillance drones for several months from a small commercial airport in Dirkou. Satellite imagery shows that the airport has grown significantly since February.
A US official said the drones had not been used in lethal missions but would almost certainly be in the near future, given the growing threat in southern Libya.
The CIA declined to comment. A Defense Department spokeswoman said the military had a base at Dirkou for several months but did not fly drone missions from there.
A New York Times reporter saw aircraft about the size of Predator drones, which are 27 feet long, at least three times in six days in August.
“All I know is they’re American,” said Niger’s interior minister, Mohamed Bazoum.
Dirkou’s mayor, Boubakar Jerome, said drones had helped improve security: “If people see things like that, they’ll be scared.”
New York Times