Given our recent discussion (here and here) of the rising importance of Africa in the world’s power and money echelons, it is not entirely surprising that the NY Times reports that US military command in Africa is actively preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa to increase “unarmed surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups” that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region. It would appear Niger will be the most likely place for the base – from which officials envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones though, of course, they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens. “This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for I.S.R.,” one American military official said Sunday, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Perhaps, actually scratch the “perhaps”, what is really happening is the US now has a drone base with which to supervise Chinese expansion in Northweast Africa, anda drone fleet to use defensively and offensively as it sees fit.
And so it would appear we can draw a big red circle over northwest Africa in the map above which is where the US will literally have a bird’s eye view of all the resources that China is sequestering, and all the infrastructure that the world’s most populous nation is setting up.
Next we need a little dose of the perpetual “Al-Qaeda” bogeyman in Central, Eastern, and finally South Africa and the US will have military control over a continent that China is rapidly doing all it cen to colonize from the ground up.
The United States military command in Africa is preparing plans to establish a drone base in northwest Africa to increase unarmed surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.
For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.
If the base is approved, the most likely location for it would be in Niger, a largely desert nation on the eastern border of Mali, where French and Malian troops are now battling Qaeda-backed fighters who control the northern part of that country…
The immediate impetus for a drone base in the region is to provide surveillance assistance to the French-led operation in Mali. “This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for I.S.R.,” one American military official said Sunday, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
A handful of unarmed Predator drones would carry out surveillance missions in the region and fill a desperate need for more detailed information on a range of regional threats, including militants in Mali and the unabated flow of fighters and weapons from Libya. American military commanders and intelligence analysts complain that such information has been sorely lacking.
The United States military has a very limited presence in Africa, with only one permanent base, in Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali. …
If approved, the base could ultimately have as many as 300 United States military and contractor personnel, but it would probably begin with far fewer people than that, military officials said.
Some Africa specialists expressed concern that setting up a drone base in Niger or in a neighboring country, even if only to fly surveillance missions, could alienate local people who may associate the distinctive aircraft with deadly attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Officials from Niger did not respond to e-mails over the weekend about the plan, but its president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has expressed a willingness to establish what he called in a recent interview “a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the Intelligence Committee, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday that in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and the turmoil of the Arab Spring, there was “an effort to establish a beachhead for terrorism, a joining together of terrorist organizations.”
General Ham said during an interview on his visit to Niger that it had been very difficult for American intelligence agencies to collect consistent, reliable intelligence about what was going on in northern Mali, as well as in other largely ungoverned parts of the sub-Saharan region.
“It’s tough to penetrate,” he said. “It’s tough to get access for platforms that can collect. It’s an extraordinarily tough environment for human intelligence, not just ours but the neighboring countries as well.”
The State Department has been extraordinarily wary of allowing drones to operate in the region, fearful of criticism that the United States is trying to militarize parts of Africa…
American drones regularly conduct surveillance flights over Somalia and occasionally launch airstrikes against people suspected of being members of the Shabab, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda.
“Without operating locations on the continent, I.S.R. capabilities would be curtailed, potentially endangering U.S. security,” General Ham said in a statement submitted to the House Armed Services Committee last March. “Given the vast geographic space and diversity in threats, the command requires increased ISR assets to adequately address the security challenges on the continent.”