Taking it to them in North Africa

In keeping with the policy of our ever expanding worldwide march to total military domination, the United States is getting ready to build a drone base in northwest Africa, nominally to increase surveillance on “millions of local affiliate Al Qaeda” and other Islamist extremist groups that U.S. and Western officials claim pose “a growing menace” to the region. So the NY Times reported in U.S. Weighs Base for Spy Drones in North Africa.

For the time being, officials claim they only envision flying unarmed surveillance drones from the base. Of course, they haven’t ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point in the empire-building scheme, that is, if the “threat worsens.” The move signifies the priority of Africa as now part of American “antiterrorism efforts.” After all, the U.S. military has only one permanent base, and that in the country of Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali, now under attack by French and Malian troops, battling “Al Qaeda fighters” who purportedly control the northern part of Mali.

Of course, a new drone base in northwest Africa would be still another commitment to join a “constellation” of small airstrips in recent years on the continent, which includes Ethiopia, for “surveillance” flights flown by drones or turboprop planes configured to look like civilian aircraft.

If the base is okayed, most likely it would be in Niger, a mostly desert nation on Mali’s eastern border. The American military’s African Command, which goes under the name “Africom” (as in Pentagon) is also brainstorming options for the base with “other countries in the region,” including Burkina Faso, officials said. You can hear the military slurping in the background.

But surveillance now is the drone-base impetus to assist the French-led op in Mali. One American military official said, “This is directly related to the Mali Mission, but it could also give Africom more enduring presence for I.S.R.,” the old intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance troika.

A mere handful of unarmed Predator drones could carry out surveillance runs in the region and fill a “desperate” need for what is going on there in a range of regional threats, including those old militants in Mali and the ever-flowing fighters and weapons from Libya. Gaddafi told the Pentagon no dice on an Africom in his country, which was one of the major reasons he was taken down. U.S. commanders and intelligence analysts complain that some real information is sorely lacking.

Yet, the Africa Command plan still needs an okay from the Pentagon and at some point the White House, plus officials in Niger. The American military said that they were working out details. No final decision had been made. Yet in Niger Monday, the two countries reached a “status of forces,” agreement clearing the way for significant American military involvement in the country, providing legal protection to American troops there, including deployment to a new drone base. It seems we’ve heard these songs before.

Of course the plan could face resistance [especially in these budget-cutting, financial cliff-hanging times when the U.S. economy is stalled], making those in the White House and Congress hopefully wary of sending more American forces to fight “a poorly understood web of extremist groups in North Africa.” But that’s life in the fast lane for the Pentagon, which barely skirts such realities.

If passed, the base could stick us deeper in the mud of Africa’s huge continent, providing only some 300 U.S. military and “contractor” personnel [number not state], though officials said it could be far fewer than that. But that’s how these conflagrations usually begin, small, and then one day explode.

Some Africa specialists were concerned that putting up a drone base in Niger or neighboring country, even if only to fly surveillance, could send alienating signals to locals who associate the deadly aircraft with the attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, a truly delicate way of putting that ghastly thought.

Niger officials did not answer e-mails last weekend regarding the plan, but its president, Mahamadou Issoufou, expressed a willingness to put together what he called, in an interview, “a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S.” Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Issoufou. And good luck.

“What’s happening in northern Mali is a big concern for us because what’s happening in northern Mali can also happen to us [how true],” he said from the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger’s capital on Jan. 10, the day before French troops swept into Mali to blunt the militant advance. The carrion smell of long-term war is in the air once again, which will further starve the economy and take more U.S. troops.

Of course, General Carter F. Ham, head of the African Command, visited Niger last month to talk about expanding the country’s security cooperation with the U.S. But he declined to comment on the proposed drone base, e-mailing that the subject was “too operational” for him to confirm or deny, the old CIA motto. One can imagine the base plans already drawn, an African “Green Zone,” mercenaries and all, free junk food, R & R.

Talks about the drone base come at a time when the French op in Mali and a militant attack on a remote gas field in the Algerian desert has incurred 37 foreign hostages, including 3 dead Americans, spotlighting “Al Qaeda’s” franchise in the region. That’s Al Qaeda plus the Islamic Mahgreb, which have forced Western powers and their allies in the region to combat it.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s Face the Nation last Sunday that in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s purported death and the Arab Spring’s turmoil, there was “an effort to establish a beachhead for the one-note song of ‘terrorism,’ a joining together of terrorist organizations.” Of course, they can’t be considered patriots of their respective countries because they are Muslims. And we know all about them.

According to current and past American government honchos, as well as classified cables made public by the group WikiLeaks, the surveillance missions flown by American turboprop planes in northern Mail have had only a limited effect. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that flown mainly from Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, missions have faced stiff challenges as homegrown (militant) leaders have taken greater precautions with using electronic communications and taken more care not to disclose delicate information prone to monitoring as to their precise locations.

General Ham said in his visit to Niger it would be hard for American intelligence agencies to collect consistent, reliable intelligence about what was going on in northern Mali, as well as in other mostly ungoverned parts of the sub-Saharan region. But once again we plunge blindly ahead, right into the middle of the muddle.

“It’s tough to penetrate,” he said, “Tough to get access for platforms that can collect. It’s an extraordinarily tough environment for human intelligence, not just ours but the neighboring countries as well.” No one wants to roll over, it seems, and play pet me I’m your patsy.

But the State Department has been “extremely wary” of allowing drones to operate in the region, afraid of criticism that the U.S. is trying to militarize parts of Africa as it steps up its campaign to hunt down Qaeda-linked extremists [local patriots] in Somalia, “as well as those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012 [the date stamp of U.S. intel], attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher J Stevens and three other Americans.” The Libyan “No-Fly Zone” also killed some 65,000 Libyans and destroyed the political infrastructure of the country.

U.S. drones conduct regular surveillance flights over Somalia and “occasionally launch airstrikes against people suspected of being members of the Shabab, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda,” the CIA’s brand name. General Ham (the name gets more meaningful as we go), who is about to retire after 40 years in the Army, has been warning that the U.S. needs more and better surveillance tools in Africa to track growing threats there. And from where will we take more troops and the money for them?

Ham said, “Without operating locations on the continent, I.S.R. capabilities would be curtailed, potentially endangering U.S. security.” When did that ever stop us before? Ham said, “Given the vast geographic space and diversity in threats, the command requires increased I.S.R assets to adequately address the security challenges on the continent.” He didn’t clearly say why we really needed to be nosing around, like France, on the African continent, except to control governments and covet their resources. Nor did he estimate the tab in blood and treasure it would take to challenge the huge continent of Mother Africa. But then that’s our little dark secret.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at gvmaz@verizon.net.

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