U.S. military preparing to establish spy drone bases in NW Africa
Washington, Jan. 29: The United States military is preparing to set up a drone base in northwest Africa.
The move comes so that the US can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials said pose a growing menace to the region.
For now, officials said that 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 worsened, the New York Times reports.
The move is an indication of the priority Africa has become in American anti-terrorism efforts.
According to the report, the United States military has a limited presence in Africa, with only one permanent base, in the country of Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali, where French and Malian troops are now battling al Qaeda-backed fighters who control the northern part of Mali.
A new drone base in northwest Africa would join a group of small air strips in recent years on the continent, including in Ethiopia, for surveillance missions flown by drones.
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.
Officials said that the American military's Africa Command, or Africom, is also discussing options for the base with other countries in the region, including Burkina Faso.
The immediate impetus for a drone base in the region is to provide surveillance assistance to the French-led operation in Mali.
One American military official, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said that this is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for I.S.R.
The Africa Command's plan still needs approval from the Pentagon and eventually from the White House, as well as from officials in Niger.
American military officials said that they were still working out some details, and that no final decision had been made.
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, the report added.