Off base: Obama should resist a new drone facility in Africa
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The latest proposal from the Pentagon's Africa Command to establish another drone base in an African country makes no sense.
Taking advantage of U.S. military support of France's effort to defeat rebel forces in northern Mali, AFRICOM, the Department of Defense command based in Stuttgart, Germany, is seeking authorization and financing to establish a new base for unmanned aerial vehicles -- drones -- in a central African country. Burkina Faso and Niger have been mentioned as possible locations. There is already an AFRICOM base in Djibouti, on the northeast African coast. Drones are also being launched from Ethiopia.
At this point, neither the Defense Department nor the African countries that would be involved have yet to approve the new base. African states, apart from Djibouti, have rejected the establishment of an AFRICOM headquarters on their continent since the command's formal creation in 2008, wary of potential U.S. interference in African affairs and in the internal politics of the host country.
The experience of Mali, where a U.S.-trained officer, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, led the coup d'etat in March against the democratically elected civilian president, Amadou Toumani Toure, would support their concern over a U.S. military presence on their soil.
AFRICOM obviously hopes that the welcome help of the U.S. military for French and various African nation forces in Mali might change the climate for the establishment of a drone base. AFRICOM's commander, Gen. Carter F. Ham, hopes to achieve this goal before his retirement, which is scheduled for the spring. At present U.S. forces provide aerial refueling for French war planes, intelligence to target France's air strikes and air transport to deliver other African forces and their equipment to Mali. The cost of the war in Mali is estimated at $460 million although the U.S. government has so far provided no figures on its involvement.
This expansion of U.S. military activities in Africa comes in the political context of the Iraq War ended, the Afghanistan War ending and cuts in Pentagon spending looming as early as March 1. The cuts are required by the government spending sequestration and, for the Pentagon, would be a logical result of the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
U.S. drones are being used in Afghanistan, Mali, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and perhaps elsewhere. Growth in U.S. military activity in Africa makes no strategic sense and would be a marginal use of American assets at a time of financial need at home. The correct response by President Barack Obama to AFRICOM's proposal should be, "Nice try, but absolutely not."
First Published February 1, 2013 12:00 am