[Marxism] Niger Approves Armed U.S. Drone Flights, Expanding Pentagon’s Role in Africa

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 1 10:33:05 MST 2017


The government of Niger has given the Defense Department permission to fly
armed drones out of the Nigerien capital, Niamey, Pentagon officials said
Thursday, in a major expansion of the American military’s footprint in

Pentagon officials want to start the flights within days.

A memorandum of understanding between the United States and Niger, which
was finalized this week, calls for the remotely piloted aircraft to be
armed initially, by the military’s Africa Command, at the Nigerien air base
in Niamey where they are currently deployed without arms.

The drones, the memo says, will eventually be moved to a Nigerien air base
in Agadez, where American troops will also be deployed. Pentagon officials
said the new mission likely would significantly increase the number of
American troops in Niger, from the 800 who are there now. About 500 of
those troops now deployed in Niamey would move to the base in Agadez.

“This operation supports the long-term strategic partnership between the
United States and Niger, as well as the ongoing effort to counter violent
extremism throughout the region,” the Defense Department said in an emailed
response to a query from The New York Times.

“The government of Niger and the U.S. stand firm in working together to
prevent terrorist organizations from using the region as a safe haven,”
said Maj. Audricia M. Harris, a Defense Department spokeswoman. She added
that for “operational security reasons,” she could not comment on “specific
military authorities or permissions.”

The Pentagon has been trying for two years to get permission from the
Nigerien government to put precision-guided bombs and missiles on a fleet
of Reapers to be flown out of Niamey. Pentagon officials say that the
drones would expand the military’s ability to go after extremists in West
Africa, in an area that could stretch from Mali to Chad, and Nigeria to
southern Libya.

Such an area of operations for the drones would allow the military to
target fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram
and the Islamic State, officials said.

While the United States has been able to reach Yemeni, Somali and Libyan
targets from bases in Djibouti and southern Italy, its reach in West Africa
has been more limited.

The Niger deployment would be only the second time that armed drones have
been stationed and used in Africa. Drones now based in Djibouti are used in
Yemen and Somalia, where there have been 30 strikes this year against
Shabab and Islamic State targets, twice the number than in all of 2016.
Drones used in Libya fly from Italy.

“This is long overdue,” said Donald C. Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier
general who until last June was the top American Special Operations
commander in Africa. “This will allow us to be more effective against the
threat there.”

Mr. Bolduc, who said he had advocated armed American drones in Niger for
the past four years, cautioned that drone strikes alone were not a
“panacea” against militant groups, and that they needed to be combined in a
broader “whole of society approach” to defeat terrorist organizations like
the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

For two years, the Defense Department had been pushing both the Nigerien
government and officials at the State Department to move forward on the
Pentagon proposal to arm the drones.

But officials at the State Department expressed concern about the big
increase in personnel that would be required in Niger. Hundreds of
additional service members would be needed to support and operate the

In addition, government officials in Niger expressed initial hesitance
because it is a major step for any government to allow armed drone flights
over their country. The French defense minister, Florence Parly, said in
September that France would seek to arm the Reaper surveillance drones it
flies from Niamey to support 4,000 French troops operating in West Africa.
But French officials said this week that process was still continuing.

The American action follows a deadly ambush on Oct. 4
an Army Special Forces team and 30 Nigerien troops, which resulted in a
two-hour firefight outside the village of Tongo Tongo near the Malian
border. Four Americans and four Nigeriens were killed, and two Americans
and six Nigeriens were wounded.

That ambush, and the aftermath, quickly altered the political calculation,
both in Niger and in Washington.

One State Department official said in an interview that in arming the
drones out of Niger, the United States would run the risk of more
accidental civilian casualties. Already this week, Africa Command has been
pushing back against allegations from residents and government officials in
Somalia that civilians were killed in a joint raid by American and Somali
troops on the village of Bariire in August.

In a statement on Wednesday, Africa Command said that the military had not
killed any civilians when it accompanied Somali forces on the raid, and
described all of the dead as “enemy combatants.”

Pentagon officials said that the people killed were members of the Shabab,
an extremist Islamic group that is linked to Al Qaeda. The Shabab are the
militants who carried out the deadly 2013 attack on the Westgate mall in
Nairobi, Kenya. Dozens were killed in the siege on the upscale shopping

“After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near
Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of
civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) has
concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants,”
the Africa Command statement said.

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