Washington has been stepping up use of armed aerial drones in Northeast Africa, targeting purported members and supporters of the Islamist group al-Shabab in Somalia as well as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. Attacks are conducted out of the U.S. air base in Djibouti, where 3,500 U.S. military personnel are stationed. U.S. drones conducting strikes in Somalia also operate from an air base in southern Ethiopia and a recently reopened base in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.
About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007, an unnamed former senior U.S. commander told the Washington Post. Operating out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes conduct surveillance operations over wide swaths of territories in Africa, the paper said.
In the West African country of Burkina Faso Washington is deepening ties with the government of Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré came to power 25 years ago in a counterrevolutionary military coup in which Thomas Sankara, central leader of the 1983-87 popular revolution there, was assassinated.
A key hub for the Pentagon’s spying network is based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital. In 2007 the U.S. Joint Special Operations Air Detachment began operating out of the city’s airport. By the end of 2009, about 65 U.S. military personnel and contractors were in the country, according to the Post.
Out of Ouagadougou, “U.S. spy planes fly hundreds of miles north to Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara,” searching for purported members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, stated the June 13 Post article.
Last October the Barack Obama administration sent 100 special operations troops to four countries in Central Africa—Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—as part of a military action targeting the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group of armed bandits operating in the region.
U.S. forces are deployed “in the operating areas” of all four countries, working to cement ties with their military forces, Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. “The next steps,” he added, are to establish a base for surveillance flights in Nzara, South Sudan.
The Pentagon is also upgrading a forward operating base and airstrip in Mauritania, near its border with Mali. A U.S. Navy engineering battalion is working on Kenya’s Manda Bay Naval Base on the Indian Ocean so U.S. C-130 troop transport flights can land at night, the Post reported.
This year 14 major joint military exercises will be conducted between the U.S. African Command and militaries from African states. Next year starting in March a U.S. army brigade—some 3,000 U.S. soldiers—will be deployed to Africa.
‘Seize investment opportunities’Meanwhile, the Obama administration released its “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa,” which emphasizes increased openings for U.S. investments on the continent.
“Africa’s economies are among the fastest growing in the world,” wrote Obama in the document’s introduction. “We will encourage American companies to seize trade and investment opportunities in Africa.”
“Given the growing strategic importance of sub-Saharan Africa to the United States,” says the document, “over the next 5 years we will elevate our focus on and dedicate greater effort to strengthening democratic institutions and spurring economic growth, trade, and investment, while continuing to pursue other objectives on the continent.”
Emphasizing this approach, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Washington, D.C., June 14. “Africa offers the highest rate of return on foreign direct investment of any developing region in the world,” she said. “In fact, it is the only developing region where the growth rate is expected to rise this year.”
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