In a reversal of Obama-era policy, the White House has reportedly authorized the CIA to expand armed drone operations in Africa.
Up until early 2018, the newly-completed base at the oasis town of Dirku, Niger, had hosted drones for the purpose of conducting reconnaissance missions in the region.
Under new U.S. policy, the base’s responsibilities will include armed drones responsible for flying armed missions targeting Islamic militants in southern Libya.
Radical Islamist groups operate widely in the region, in Mali, Chad, Nigeria and Libya. ISIS affiliate Boko Haram operates extensively in Nigeria.
Prior to the completion of the base at Dirku, armed drone missions against al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS) operatives were carried out by drones based in Niger’s capital, Niamey, and from a U.S. base in Sicily.
According to the New York Times, the existence and purpose of the base is believed to have the full support of the Nigerien government.
A turnaround from previous counter-terrorism policy during the Obama administration, which bowed to public pressure over civilian casualties inflicted by drones, President Trump is believed to have been persuaded by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to transfer to the CIA from the Pentagon responsibility of overseeing drone strikes in the region.
In another policy shift under Trump, the White House has lifted Obama-era constraints to permit a broader range of terror targets and lifted checks on field commanders seeking approval to order strikes.
Although American troops do not maintain a large footprint in Africa, armed drone reconnaissance and surveillance missions have surged in northern Africa in response to an October 2017 ambush in western Niger, which claimed the lives of four U.S. Special Forces personnel.
A probe following the surprise attack revealed U.S. armed forces had frequently come under attack in the two-year period prior to the 2017 attack, but the location of the incidents remains classified.
The U.S. is currently completing construction on a similar base in Agadez at an expected cost of over $250 billion.
[New York Times] [Photo courtesy AP via Fox News]