Reporting in the New York Times Monday reveals that the US government is busy in west Africa looking for a country willing to host a military base for a portion its fleet of Predator drones.
Officials who spoke to the newspaper say that only un-armed surveillance drones would be part of an original plan to establish a base, but "they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes" if they consider it necessary in the future.
According to the Times:
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 American military’s Africa Command is also discussing options for the base with other countries in the region, including Burkina Faso, officials said.
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 ISR,” one American military official said on Sunday, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Established critics of the US war on terror will not be surprised at the news, as the Pentagon and CIA have been fighting aspects of the so-called 'war on terror' in Africa for much of the last decade. However, establishing a US drone base inside Niger, Burkina Faso or elsewhere will be a clear escalation on the part of AFRICOM.
As Dashiell Bennett writes at The Atlantic, a new US base "almost certainly guarantees a long-term U.S. presence in North Africa." And continues:
It would also send a clear signal that the U.S. now considers North Africa to be a theater in the never-ending, non-declared war on terror (with lowercase letters). Now that Afghanistan and Iraq are officially "over," the focus appears to be moving West, to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to the ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria, to the scattered militias in Libya, and toward terrorist attackers like those who hit the Algeria gas facility this month. This just continues the pattern of the Sahara region drawing more and more of America's military resources and attention. And history shows that once the Pentagon establishes a presence in an foreign country, it becomes almost impossible to get them to leave.
It also proves that drones will continue to be the preferred first line of defense overseas. The Times also reports that Americans have already signed a "status of forces" agreement with Niger, the likely location of the new base. There are still several steps of approval to go through, but the wheels are in motion, and it won't be long before the drones will be in the sky.