UPDATE: Niger has reportedly agreed to have U.S. drones stationed in its territory, a move that U.S. and Nigerian representatives hail as an important step forward in the fight against Al-Qaeda linked rebels in neighboring Mali. Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou accepted the deal Wednesday signaling an escalation in U.S. military involvement in West Africa. Although the drones are for surveillance missions, human rights organizations condemned the move as having potentially devastating consequences for civilian populations.
(MintPress) – As a coalition of forces led by France and Mali beat back Islamist rebels in the war ravaged area north of Mali, the United States has subtly, but measurably, expanded drone surveillance under the guise of anti-terrorist operations. The U.S. is reportedly preparing to establishing a drone base in northwestern Africa to counter Al-Qaeda and other affiliated terrorist groups.
Terrorist rebels seized control of Northern Mali after Tuareg separatists attempted to create an independent state in April 2012.
The Tuareg separatist state of “Azawad” created a power vacuum in the northern two-thirds of Mali. The Tuareg people, descendants of nomadic Berber tribes, have deep-rooted historical ties to the area, including the ancient trade city of Timbuktu.
Terrorists, mostly from outside Mali, quickly infiltrated what was a secular nationalist movement committed to democracy and the rule of law. A coalition of forces led by the French and Malian militaries appears to have successfully driven rebels from the rural north after footage released Tuesday shows foreign forces liberating cities and towns once held by rebels.
The French intervention was welcome by many forced to submit to radical Sharia law. Al-Qaeda-linked rebels reportedly whipped women for walking in public spaces unveiled, and cut off the hands of suspected thieves.
While the military operation appears to be relatively successful, what should be a brief intervention could be prolonged by the U.S. announcing the creation of a drone base in West Africa, the first base of its kind in the region.
The U.S. currently has just one military base, in Djibouti, a small country in east Africa. Creating a new American presence in Mali and surrounding countries signals the prioritization of Africa, especially West Africa, as an area of importance in the war against Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.
While terrorist groups pose a legitimate threat to Malian national security and in west Africa, the expansion of U.S. drone operations is concerning given the abysmal record of drone use in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
These countries continue to suffer high civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes. Since the start of drone strikes in 2002, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
There have been more constructive, hopeful developments as well. African leaders and international representatives pledged $600 million to help rebuild Mali, already one of the poorest countries in the world before the civil strife. The announcements came during a recent conference in Ethiopia. Japan and the United States led the way in donations, pledging $120 million and $96 million dollars respectively.