As France announces plans to stand down in Mali, the United States is standing up. With the French announcing sharp limits on their objectives in Mali, the United States is advancing deeper into the north African theater of the global war on terror that the Obama administration ended four years ago and setting up a new drone base as the first step. Eric Schmitt reports for the NY Times:
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.A handful of unarmed Predator drones would carry out surveillance missions in the region and fill a desperate need for more detailed information on a range of regional threats, including militants in Mali and the unabated flow of fighters and weapons from Libya. American military commanders and intelligence analysts complain that such information has been sorely lacking. . . .For now, officials say 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 worsens.
In addition to a patchwork of small air bases across the continent, the only permanent U.S. drone base is in Djibouti, in east Africa, and Mali isn’t the only country that poses significant surveillance challenges. A status-of-forces agreement with Niger has been reached, but as the Pentagon aims to step up its intelligence-gathering operations in north Africa, it will need to tread carefully. Wary locals may not believe our assurances that the drones in north Africa are the “good drones.” And the way things are going the bad drones will likely be needed and soon.Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Mauritania: will America soon have “kill lists” in these places too? This Libyan afterparty just keeps getting better.