Do You Know About the US Drones in Africa?

Obama needs to be mindful of doing more harm to the continent while protecting American interests.

Don Emmert/Getty Images
Don Emmert/Getty Images

(The Root) — The legacy of colonialism has saddled the African continent with crippling poverty, widespread hunger and incurable disease. But there is a new threat on the horizon: an era of perpetual war.

America’s war on terror was supposed to end, or at least subside, under President Obama’s watchful eye. Withdrawal from Iraq was the first step. An orderly drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan by 2014 was supposed to be the end. But conflicts in northern, western and central Africa have emerged as the new frontier of American aggression against al-Qaida. And though hardly discussed, the regions now harbor the most clandestine activity within Obama’s foreign policy agenda: namely, a secret war in Africa conducted by drones.

Last month, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb seized an oil refinery in Algeria. More than 81 hostages were killed — American, Japanese and British citizens among them. This followed last year’s Sept. 11 attack on America’s consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In Mali, a former Francophile colony in West Africa, al-Qaida sympathizers occupied the country’s northern territory, declaring an independent Islamist state and waging war against Malian soldiers ill equipped to challenge the well-armed militias. France sent troops — ostensibly to protect its own financial interests in the region — to restore a tenuous order.

Prior to the Arab Spring, Muammar Qaddafi’s Libyan dictatorship and Hosni Mubarak’s stronghold on Egypt had successfully managed to quell Islamist revolts — maintaining a secular peace and stability amiable toward the West. The demise of both figures created a power vacuum for dissidence and opportunism. Militants were able to grab territory, acquire sophisticated armory and launch attacks on Western targets.

U.S. Drone Bases in Africa

Though there is only one permanent U.S. military base in Africa — in Djibouti — smaller drone hubs exist across the continent. A key hub of the spy-drone program is stationed in Burkina Faso, one of the world’s most impoverished nations; and a Predator-drone base was recently approved for Niger, an oil-rich country north of Nigeria. Several hundred Special Forces already operate in Niger, and according to the Pentagon, the drones are only meant to conduct surveillance of al-Qaida-linked organizations. Yet drone-launched missile attacks have not been ruled out.

African nations like Somalia have already experienced the devastating impact of drone attacks. David Axe of Wired Magazine quoted one Somali citizen, saying, “You Americans, you’ll destroy an entire city to get three people.”

Somalia’s government has been backed by the CIA in its civil war with al-Shabaab — the Somalia-based cell of al-Qaida. Al-Shabaab, which claims to be at war with the “enemies of Islam,” controls much of Somalia’s southern territory. The U.S. State Department has open bounties on many of its leaders, and drone strikes have killed countless civilians and suspected terrorists.