(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration notified Congress on Wednesday that 90 U.S. troops have been deployed to the African nation of Cameroon on Monday to assist in the fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram.
The Americans will conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region, the White House said.
"They are armed, but they are armed for the purposes of force protection and providing for their own security," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday. " They will not be there in a combat role, but rather to provide force protection for -- to allow these airborne intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance operations to commence."
Earnest said the U.S. troops -- which eventually could number around 300 -- are there at the invitation of Cameroon and "will act in coordination" with that country's government.
"When the president traveled to Africa earlier this year, he talked about how important it was for Africa -- the nations of Africa to pursue a regional approach to the threat that is posed by Boko Haram. And what the United States has done is try to offer some of the unique capabilities that we have in the United States military to assist that regional effort," Earnest explained.
Earnest said the American troops already are there, "which is what prompted the War Powers notice. There's a requirement of the War Powers Act that when deployments like this occur, that the administration informs Congress within 48 hours of that deployment. So my understanding is, that this deployment has already started."
Earnest noted that this is not the first U.S. contribution to the anti-terror effort in Africa; he described it as "an effort to continue to increase the support that the United States is providing to the ongoing regional effort to counter Boko Haram."
"Based on my understanding, this wasn't a response to any particular urgent threat. It certainly doesn't reflect a change to the strategy that the U.S. military has employed in this region.
Back in March, Army Gen. David Rodriguez, Africom’s commander, observed that Boko Haram was expanding out of Nigeria into neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
A reporter asked Earnest if the troops in Cameroon were drawn from Afghanistan.
"I don't believe that's the case," Earnest said. "I believe that these will be military personnel that are assigned to Africa."
The U.S. troop deployment to Cameroon comes as President Obama reconsiders his plan to withdraw all but a small contingent of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, given the continuing threat from Islamic terrorists in that country.
Obama already has sent more than 3,000 U.S. troops to Iraq to train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces in their fight against Islamic State terrorists in both Iraq and Syria.
But his request for a new war powers resolution to wage war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria languishes in Congress.
Obama is still invoking a 2001 congressional authorization for the use of military force against ISIS/ISIL, over the objections of some members of Congress.
The U.s. State Department designated Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in November 2013, months after its war on Christians and Westerners began. The group -- whose names translates to “Western education is forbidden”-- is blamed for tens of thousands of murders and hundreds of schoolgirl abductions.
In a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May, President Obama linked the emergence of Islamic terrorism in Nigeria and Syria to climate change:
“Understand climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world. Yet, what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East,” he said.