This week the New York Times announced that the USA is planning the establishment of a new base for its drones in northwest Africa. This base will be utilized for flying unarmed surveillance drones, initially, but the article also states that the possibility of this base being used to launch drone strikes in the future should not be ruled out. A day after the New York Times article was published, a senior government source, according to Reuters, stated that, US ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, had made a request on Monday to meet with president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, who accepted immediately.
Mali is suspected to be the country that the US will target first, as it sits on the border of Niger. French surveillance drones were reported, to have been deployed to Mali last October and there was speculation that British drones could be deployed as part of Britain’s military support to the French forces in Mali, however Philip Hammond, the British Defense Minister, recently said they had decided against this as they need these drones to be used in Afghanistan.
Although drones have been used in South Asia mainly, unmanned drones have hovered above the African skies for years. According to an article by David Axe, titled, America’s secret Drone War in Africa, the first known US attack on Africa utilizing drones occurred on 7 September 2007. During this incident, a US Predator Drone tracked a convoy near the southern Somali town of Ras Kamboni and guided in an attack by a US gunship. Since this initial attack, US drones have operated continuously on African soil. Some of the most well known US drone bases situated in Africa includes, those in Djibouti, Ethiopia and the Seychelles. In 2009, at a press conference in the Seychelles, Craig White, a US diplomat stated that it is correct that there is a US drone base in the Seychelles but the US was invited over there by the Seychelles government in order to help them fight piracy. That was the mission, however, these unmanned crafts have capabilities that could be used for a range of other functions.
In July 2012, UN officials also released a report concerning the drone presence in Africa. The report highlighted the fact that the unmanned drones in Somalia posed a danger to air traffic and risked violating the long-standing embargo on the country. Three specific events were detailed in the report, namely; a drone crashing into a refugee camp; the flight of a drone dangerously close to a fuel dump; and a near miss between a drone and a large passenger plane over Mogadishu.
There have been many reports of other drone incidents in various parts of Africa. What these have in common with the drone wars occurring in South Asia is that much of what is taking place is shrouded in secrecy. What can be concluded about the establishment of this new drone base in Niger is that drones will undoubtedly; continue to fly African skies for the foreseeable future.