US drones have recently begun patrolling the skies of Sahel, including war-hit Mali, looking for Islamist rebels the Obama administration and the European Union describe as radical elements threatening security in the region, according to reports from Washington and Bamako.
The drones, called Predators, are being manned from a secret CIA base located in the middle of the desert ‘somewhere’ on the outskirts of the Niger capital Niamey.
No missiles have been fitted in these Predators as the aircraft will only provide surveillance missions, but the Pentagone said they could be armed anytime if the Islamist threat proves dangerous.
The move is not only part of the US strategy to support military French operations in nearby Mali, but also forms part of the global war on terrorism, diplomats from Bamako say. A government source in Bamako told Moon of the South the news has delighted Mali president and ministers, who firmly believe that there will be nowhere to run for Islamists of Ansar-Dine, Mujao, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.
Another US drone base is being planned in Burkina Faso, and negotiations between US officials and the government of Blaise Compaoré have reached a point of no return, a reliable source told Moon of the South from the capital Ouagadougou.
The US, which is seen to be wrestling its lost influence and power in Africa from natural resources-obsessed China, has sent more than 100 troops, including terrorism specialists and marines, to the region to provide necessary back-up in case it is urgently needed.
However, the use of drones by the US has courted controversy, anger and misery in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, where scores of civilians have been mistakenly killed and injured.
An estimated 880 civilians, including 176 children, were among 3300 people killed by drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004, according to a report commissioned by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
UK-based Global Panorama reported last week that the US is facing an UN investigation around these killings, and may face ‘legal action’ if it is found that it has been acting ‘unlawfully’.
*Photo by Global Panorama