Shadow Wars: Drone Warfare in Africa


Drone ScapeIn the years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, America expanded the so-called Global War on Terror from Afghanistan to Iraq and then to Pakistan. As the wars continued the personnel needed to prosecute this ever widening war became more and more limited. As a consequence service members from branches not necessarily associated with being deployed into combat zones began to be appropriated. More and more of people I knew serving military intelligence field from the US Navy began being deployed as “individual augmentees” to places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, there was one place where only a handful of people were being deployed, and they were among the early participants in America’s shadow wars in Africa. Djibouti, a tiny third world country at the intersection of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, had become the unlikely base of operation for the covert wars against terrorist in Yemen and North Africa. In the early years of the war on terror, the description of this base by those who had been there portrayed it as mostly tents and temporary buildings. How things have changed.

As Danger Room has reported, at Camp Lemonnier the tents and temporary buildings have given way to airplane hangers and air-conditioned buildings. Only two miles long, the base sits just outside Djibouti city and the runway ends about 500 feet from the ocean. The base is now more than 2,000 military and civilians support staff, 300 Special Forces personnel, eight F-15’s, and of course eight Predator drones. According to the Washington Post, $1.4 billion is being spent to expand the base and add 800 more personnel.

The Pentagon sees Africa as an emerging terrorism threat, as revolutions in countries like Egypt and civil wars in countries like Mali have given an opportunity for Islamic fundamentalist with or without ties to Al Qaeda to take hold. Under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom, the military and intelligence agencies have been waging a world-wide shadow war. The African shadow war, officially known as OEF-Trans Sahara, is a $500 million campaign that will most likely expand as the war in Afghanistan winds down.

Across Africa, Special Forces soldiers have been involved in training missions. From places such as Mali to Uganda the US military has been training foreign militaries, and that does not include the classified missions that have been kept secret from the public.

The deadliest part of the shadow wars are drones. The well publicized drone strikes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have started to decrease, while drone strikes in places like Yemen have vastly increased. As reported by the Global Post, in 2012 there were 228 people killed by 42 separate drone strikes in Yemen. In 2011 there were only 10 drone strikes. As Frontline’s interactive map shows, between 2000 and 2008 there were only a handful of strikes. But in the last few years they have increased rapidly.

According to data gathered by the Long War Journal, of the 228 people killed in drone strikes this year 35 have been civilians. But the Obama Administration does not believe that killing civilians will have any blow back effect. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that [drone strikes] are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP. In fact, we see the opposite…Targeted strikes against the most senior and most dangerous AQAP terrorists are not the problem–they are part of the solution.” That is what John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and one of the most dangerous people in the world, told Foreign Policy magazineBut according to reporting by Jeremy Scahill, drone strikes have radicalized the population and have done exactly what the Administration says it doesn’t: generate widespread anti-American sentiment.

What seems to be clear is that the Obama Administration is likely to increase the use of drone warfare for shadow wars in countries around the region as the so-called Global War on Terror moves from Afghanistan and Pakistan to places like Somolia and Mali. There is also likely to be an increase in infrastructure for these shadow wars as secret bases in places like the Djibouti and the Seychelles expand to accommodate increased operations. If the foreign policy legacy for the Obama Administration in 2012 was drone strikes in Afghanistan, then the legacy of 2013 will be the shadow wars.

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