CIA drone mis­sion in Africa ex­pand­ing

The East African - - OUTLOOK -

A JOINT RE­PORT

THE CIA is poised to con­duct se­cret drone strikes against Al-qaeda and Is­lamic State in­sur­gents from a newly ex­panded air base deep in the Sahara, mak­ing ag­gres­sive use of pow­ers that were scaled back dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and re­stored by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Late in his pres­i­dency, Barack Obama sought to put the mil­i­tary in charge of drone at­tacks af­ter a back­lash arose over a se­ries of highly vis­i­ble strikes, some of which killed civil­ians. The move was in­tended, in part, to bring greater trans­parency to at­tacks that the US of­ten re­fused to ac­knowl­edge its role in. But now the CIA is broad­en­ing its drone op­er­a­tions, mov­ing air­craft to north­east­ern Niger to hunt Is­lamist mil­i­tants in southern Libya. The ex­pan­sion adds to the agency’s lim­ited covert mis­sions in east­ern Afghanistan for strikes in Pak­istan, and in southern Saudi Ara­bia for at­tacks in Ye­men.

Nige­rian and US of­fi­cials said the CIA had been fly­ing drones on sur­veil­lance mis­sions for sev­eral months from a cor­ner of a small com­mer­cial air­port in Dirkou. Satel­lite im­agery shows that the air­port has grown sig­nif­i­cantly since Fe­bru­ary to in­clude a new taxi­way, walls and se­cu­rity posts.

One US of­fi­cial said the drones had not yet been used in lethal mis­sions, but would al­most cer­tainly be in the near fu­ture, given the grow­ing threat in southern Libya. A CIA spokesman, Tim Bar­rett, de­clined to com­ment.

A De­fence De­part­ment spokes­woman, Maj Sh­eryll Klinkel, said the mil­i­tary had main­tained a base at the Dirkou air­field for sev­eral months but did not fly drone mis­sions from there.

A re­porter saw the gray air­craft — about the size of Predator drones, which are 27 feet long —fly­ing at least three times over six days in early Au­gust.

“All I know is they’re Amer­i­can,” Niger’s in­te­rior min­is­ter, Mo­hamed Ba­zoum, said in an in­ter­view.

Dirkou’s mayor, Boubakar Jerome, said the drones had helped im­prove the town’s se­cu­rity.

“It’s al­ways good. If peo­ple see things like that, they’ll be scared,” he said.

Pic­ture: AFP

So­ma­lia’s Al-qaeda-af­fil­i­ated Shabaab rebels.

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