President Obama sent about 100 U.S. military personnel to Niger to support the French mission to root out Islamists in Mali, of which he informed Congress today. In his State of the Union address last week, Obama pointed to Mali as an example of how the United States needs to operate in the global war on terror (term out of use) when he said "we'll need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali."
It was the only mention of Africa (other than in its inclusion in the global war on terror by some other name) in the address, yet the United States has been quite active on the continent. Obama previously sent 100 troops to Uganda in late 2011 to capture the rebel leader Joseph Kony. That search has led U.S. troops as far west as the Central African Republic, in addition to the nearby Congo and the newly independent South Sudan. U.S. military support, of course, was instrumental to regime change in Libya, despite lacking any Congressional authorization, and that intervention in Libya, in turn, fueled the instability in Mali and the region.
Last summer, the Washington Post outlined U.S. intelligence operations across Africa, which ranges from a forward operating base in Djibouti and drones over Somalia in Africa's horn to surveillance planes flying out of Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, in West Africa. Niger, where 100 U.S. military personnel are now headed, is also the likeliest candidate for a new U.S. drone base in the region.