The White House announced on Wednesday it will send about 90 troops to Cameroon to help the Central African nation stop the spread of Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the troops will be armed for their protection and security, but will not engage in combat. They are being sent under an arrangement with the Cameroon government to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in ther region and will stay until they are no longer needed.
Service members began setting out on their mission Monday. A total of 300 troops ultimately could be sent.
The Washington Post reports the Pentagon’s ultimate goal in sending troops to Cameroon is to setup a drone base at a “temporary location” in the country. Navy Lt. Cmdr Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, didn’t identify to the Post where exactly the troops would be stationed.
The drone base would help track Boko Haram militants, which have terrorized Nigeria and its surrounding countries in the last year. The Post reports U.S. will operate a small fleet of unarmed Predator drones that will conduct surveillance missions in the region.
“It will be part of a broader regional effort to stop the spread of Boko Haram and other violent extremist organizations in West Africa,” Earnest said.
The U.S. is already helping Nigerian efforts to defeat Boko Haram, which was founded in that country and has pledged allegiance to Islamic State militants.
Cameroon has been battling Boko Haram as well. The terror group has vowed to retaliate against Cameroon for its support of the Nigerian army in their war. In August, Cameroon expelled more than 3,000 Nigerians as part of its campaign.
Boko Haram violence has killed thousands and displaced more than 1.5 million people. The group has also abducted hundreds of girls and young women, including 200 missing schoolgirls in 2014 who have not been located.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.