The United States military had been seeking the authority to arm its drones in Niger before the recent ambush of US forces there, three defense officials tell CNN.
The military is still seeking the authority to arm the drones in the wake of the ISIS attack, the officials added, with one saying the effort has gained greater urgency.
The government of Niger must give permission to allow the arming of US drones there, something it has yet to do, according to one official.
The US State Department has been leading the effort to persuade the Nigerien government to permit the arming of drones.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, told reporters Monday that remotely piloted drone aircraft arrived overhead within minutes of the soldiers’ request for support.
But a defense official told CNN that the US drones in Niger are not authorized to be armed, which prevents them from conducting airstrikes in support of the troops on the ground.
The French military does have the authority to arm its aircraft, including drones, in Niger. In a September speech, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly announced France’s decision to arm its drones.
But the armed French Mirage jets that arrived on scene two hours after the ambush began did not attack the ISIS militants because they couldn’t distinguish enemy and friendly forces on the ground. Several officials have said the jets might have had a deterrent effect, forcing the attackers to disperse.
One defense official told CNN that the construction of a new US drone base at Agadez could facilitate the arming of US drones, as the military is cautious about storing munitions at the current base of drone operations, the main civilian airport in the capital, Niamey.
Asked Monday if the drone that responded to the request for air support had the authority to strike, Dunford declined to comment.
“I’m not going to talk about what our capabilities are in the region, but that particular capability that was there within minutes did not strike,” Dunford said.