The US military is planning to establish a base for drones in northwest Africa on the Mali-Niger border, with the alleged justification of having greater surveillance of Islamist groups in the region.
US officials told the New York Times that the drone base would be used for unarmed drones only, but that is highly unlikely. Armed drones – a secret, unaccountable way to bomb unidentified groups of people in foreign countries – have become the central “counter-terrorism” tool at the Obama administration’s disposal.
The Pentagon is using the US-backed French military intervention in Mali as a way to justify the drone base.
“This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for I.S.R.,” one US military official told the Times, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
US military and intelligence involvement in Africa has increased markedly since the establishment of AFRICOM in 2007. Much of this has been justified by unnecessary military interventions that don’t address direct threats to the US, like the NATO-backed regime change operation in Libya and the deployment of US forces to Uganda.
One of the real threats Washington perceives in the increasing presence in Africa of Chinese economic interests. China is viewed by Washington as a rising power and a peer competitor in terms of economic weight, military strength, and geo-political sway.
The Obama administration has already assembled “a constellation of secret drone bases” in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, as the Washington Post reported in 2011. Drones lifting off from these bases – which lie in Ehtiopia, Djibouti, the Seychelles, and beyond – go on to bomb Yemen and Somalia and most likely perform surveillance missions in East Africa and the Persian Gulf.