US military plans ‘urgent’ Africa task

The US military’s Africa Command has been newly tasked with “a more urgent” mission of fighting Muslim militants in the continent, establishing a drone base in Niger and deploying troops to conduct war games and training with African nations.

Amid a shrinking military budget and the winding down of the US-led war in Afghanistan, senior Pentagon officials “are scrambling to address the growing threat in North and West Africa by repositioning spy satellites and shifting surveillance aircraft from other theaters,” The New York Times reports on Tuesday.

According to the report, in building the new assassination and spying drone base in Niger, American military leaders seek to increase “surveillance missions” on what they commonly describe as al-Qaeda-linked militants in the area.

Additionally, the US Africa Command plans to deploy military contingents to the region “to conduct nearly 100 exercises and training programs in 35 African countries,” the report adds.

American officials reached a “status-of-forces agreement” last month in Niger, clearing the way for expanding American military involvement in the resource-rich African country, including the drone base, out of which US assassination and spying drones are expected to run missions against various targets in the region.

Commander of the Africa Command Gen. Carter Ham, who has previously led American troops in Iraq, said following an attack against the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed the country’s ambassador and four CIA operatives there that he is drawing up plans to have American forces in Europe, West Africa or Djibouti respond more quickly to a crisis in the region.

“Instead of responding in a day,” he said, “they could respond within some number of hours.”

The development comes, however, as American military training bids have not always proved effective, the report adds, citing the defection of US-trained Malian army commanders last year to join anti-government militants, “taking troops, trucks, weapons and their newfound skills to the enemy,” the report notes.

The Africa Command has an annual budget of nearly 300 million dollars and 2,000 employees worldwide, compared with the US Central Command, in charge of the nation’s military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which has an annual budget of about 800 million dollars and 5,000 personnel.