September 24, 2013 @PeterDoerrie - war-is-boring
Drones are useless against advanced enemies, so “pivot to Asia” actually means “drones to Africa”
Not too long ago, Mohamed Bazoum, the foreign minister of the western African nation of Niger gave a provocative endorsement to unrestricted drone warfare. The target: drug dealers moving their wares through the country — along with everyone else who makes money from the narcotics trade.
“I would really welcome armed drones to shoot down drug traffickers,” Bazoum said. “And all those who live from activities linked to drug trafficking. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible.”
It’s not, yet. But Niger’s government has gotten a taste of the capabilities of U.S. drones with the deployment of two MQ-9 Reapers (the successor of the pop-culture famous Predator drone) to a base near Niamey, Niger’s capital, in February. The unmanned planes are armed with only cameras and sensors — not bombs — but Niger’s government isn’t the only African nation that’s acquired a taste for more.
Many African states sport huge territories, of which large swathes of land are only sparsely inhabited. This is exploited by armed rebel groups all over the continent, who use the remote areas to prepare for attacks.
Some of these groups, like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or Al Shabaab in Somalia have made international headlines in recent years, ousting the government from large parts of the national territory in Mali and Somalia, respectively. Al Shabaab is believed to be responsible for carrying out the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 embassy bombings.
The U.S. government probably wouldn’t have cared very much, but both AQIM and Al Shabaab are Islamist groups with strong links with Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen, and members of the African affiliates have been involved with organizing and staging terrorist attacks abroad.
Other armed groups — both Islamist and others — kindle the interest of U.S. militaries and policy makers as well. Boko Haram is another Al Qaeda affiliated group that’s in open warfare with the Nigerian government. The defeat of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (though now active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic) has been made a cause célèbre by American advocacy groups. Various rebel groups in eastern Congo have made it on the government’s radar as well.
Last but not least, there are a range of other armed groups with little impact on U.S. interests directly, but which are a huge thorn in the sides of important U.S. allies — the Oromo Liberation Front in Ethiopia is a case in point.