At home and abroad, the scope of the drone war is expanding and liberty is contracting.
On February 22, President Barack Obama sent a letter to the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate, informing them that he ordered U.S. armed forces sent to Niger, where they will “provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region.”
Accompanying the nearly 300 U.S. troops to Niger were two Raptor drones and the crew to pilot them, according to an NBC News story.
NBC reports that Department of Defense officials verified the deployment of troops and drones, but assured NBC that the drones would be used “for surveillance only.”
Despite the comments made by the unnamed Pentagon officials, drones are not new to Niger.
In February, The New American covered a New York Times report that the Pentagon plans to build a drone base in northwest Africa to enable it keep a closer eye on African organizations believed to be associated with the larger al-Qaeda network.
U.S. intelligence officials insist that the threat from regional al-Qaeda branches is growing and believe that more frequent surveillance can reduce the danger.
The move, the Times reported, is "an indication of the priority Africa has become in American antiterrorism efforts.” The story notes that the current U.S. military presence is mostly confined to one permanent base in Djibouti.
Beyond the official base, the United States maintains a “constellation of small airstrips” in the area that are used to launch drones tasked with tracking the movements of suspected “militants.”
Whether to track and kill alleged al-Qaeda or to provide air support for the French offensive in Mali, the United States is making good on the plan announced last October to expand the drone fleet in Africa and make it the next theater in the War on Terror. The CIA, of course, will correspondingly increase its presence in North Africa and continue its conversion from an intelligence-gathering agency to a paramilitary force.
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