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US to Build Drone Bases in West Africa

The United States, in its effort to support West Africa against terrorism, is pursuing a new strategy to counter the dual threats of “China” and Islamist militants in the region. The plan, according to  US officials, is to set up drone bases along the coast.

The US is allegedly in talks with Benin, Ghana, and Ivory Coast to allow American unarmed surveillance drones to use their airfields, according to a report done by The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 3. These countries and Togo are relatively stable but are currently at risk of spillover of the Islamic fundamentalist insurgency that plagues Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria in the same region.

General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, said: “There are several locations I’ll say that we’re looking at, but nothing’s firmed up. We have talked to some countries about it.” While the US is actively considering new host nations, they are also closely monitoring ongoing diplomatic efforts to address the situation, as a peaceful resolution is a preferred outcome”.

After the recent coup in Niger, the United States has significantly reevaluated their military presence in the region. The US already has a military drone base in Niger, just outside the city of Agadez. This is the US most strategic asset in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nigerien Air Base 201 was built with $110 million, it is a 6,200-foot runway able to accommodate MQ-1C Gray Eagle, MQ-9 Reapers, and also manned aircraft. Since its inauguration in November 2019, the base has played a pivotal role in the U.S. military’s surveillance and intelligence operations in the region.

The U.S. intends to avoid landlocked locations and build new bases closer to the Atlantic Ocean. It hopes to enhance its ability to monitor and respond to the activities of Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates operating in the region. The U.S. has also been providing security assistance and training to African troops fighting against Islamist militants.

They also want to keep an eye on the growing influence of China and Russia, which, according to intelligence reports, pose a direct challenge to U.S. national security and interests. For instance, China has been increasing its economic and military presence in Africa, offering loans, funding infrastructural projects and selling arms to various African countries. Russia also recently signed a defense pact with Niger, this was after the coup following an earlier established pattern with Mali and Burkina Faso.

Former Commander of the African Command, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said the US plans to prevent the formation of the Chinese Naval Base in Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. has been trying to counter China’s influence by strengthening its partnerships and agreements with African countries.

Despite assurances of the intent to share intelligence reports that will be gathered and the use of unarmed drones, there is a lot of scepticism and even real fear that the move has more to do with an attempt at recolonization than helping with insurgents. The exploitation of mineral resources in African countries by Western companies gave rise to these beliefs. There is also the fact that the countries in which the US is trying to undermine its influence on the continent have been a strategic help to African countries. It is in Africa’s interest to court both sides of the divide rather than inherit other people’s “enemies’.

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