U.S. to Expand Drone Operations with New Base in West Africa
Al-Qaeda affiliates in West Africa have become the next target of American drone operations, which are now expanding into the region.
The U.S. military is in the process of setting up a drone base, most likely in Niger, which would permit aerial surveillance of Islamic rebels in neighboring Mali. It has been estimated that such a base would have upwards of 300 military and contractor personnel.
Officials in the Obama administration say the base would only launch reconnaissance missions for now. But carrying out missile attacks from the unmanned aerial vehicles could happen as well, they acknowledged to The New York Times.
The decision follows the terrorist attack at a gas plant in Algeria, in which dozens of hostages were killed, including three Americans.
Mali has become a top concern of Western leaders since Islamist extremist rebels began making progress towards the nation’s capital a few weeks ago. France sent troops to help the government stem the armed uprising and push back the offensive.
The U.S. drones are expected to collect data on the Mali rebels to better assist French soldiers in their battles.
Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, expressed interested in developing “a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S.,” especially given his concern that “what’s happening in northern Mali can also happen to us.” His country has already cleared the way for a U.S. military presence through the recent signing of a status-of-forces agreement.
Some in the White House are said to be wary of committing additional U.S. forces to Africa, which so far hosts a single permanent U.S. base in the country of Djibouti. Also, various Africa experts caution that launch of a drone operation could alienate local citizens.
In spite of such warnings, Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the U.S. Africa Command, has said that it is imperative for the U.S. to develop a surveillance system on the continent due to growing threats.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
U.S. Weighs Base for Spy Drones in North Africa (by Eric Schmitt, New York Times)
US Planning for New Drone Base in Northwest Africa, Officials Say (by Justin Fishel, Fox News)
U.N. Plans to Deploy Surveillance Drones for Congo Peacekeeping Missions (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
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