Friday, February 22, 2013

U.S. Military Involvement in Africa – Growing Concern

"Drones Over Africa" — New Movie Theme Song???

That photo and the headline: "U.S. troops arrive in Niger to set up drone base" (story link) along with this map got me once again on the topic of Drone and war and I asked myself: Where are we heading in Africa? I pieced together information this post from the story that appeared in the UK DailyMail (here) (the editing is my own):

Drone warfare is here – it’s real, growing, and apt to keep growing and now more so in Africa.

That points up several questions: (1) has war not come to Africa and likely to draw the U.S. in; short answer, yes, it already is, (2) are Drones the answer; probably not, and (3) how long will this last; sadly, no one knows since Africa is big, heavily populated and now seems to be a hiding place, operational place, and place for recruitment by al-Qaeda and others involved in terrorist warfare. Thus we need to meet that challenge, right: okay. What about the rest of the free world, too; what about their role and duty? 

Add all that to a recently-discovered al-Qaeda guide that lists 22 ways to avoid drone attacks and the problems before us get far more complex and uncertain. The document was unearthed in Mali after reporters stumbled across the booklet in that war-torn country.

The tips vary from the straightforward to the unusual. For example, militants of the Islamic Maghreb are advised to camouflage cars using sticks or bales of hay, to simulate fake gatherings with dolls, and to simply to hide under trees.

Other key point of this document include:

• A broad technique (like Number 7): hide from being directly or indirectly spotted, especially at night.

• To a specific technique (like Number 18: form fake gatherings, for example by using dolls and statues placed outside false ditches to mislead. 

• Another technique listed was to use mats (like Number 3): camouflaging the tops of cars and the roofs of buildings, possibly by spreading reflective glass. 

Some of the tips obviously are outdated or so far-fetched to be laughable, but taken together they suggest the Islamists, at least in Mali, are responding to the threat of drones with sound, common-sense advice that may help them to melt into the desert in between attacks, thus leaving barely a trace that they were even in the area.

U. S. Air Force personnel, for example, those who helped set up the Drone program like Colonel Cedric Leighton, say “… it shows that al-Qaeda is acting pretty astutely with steps that buys them a little bit more time on the ground – and time in this kind of conflict is key as they use that extra time to move away from an area, or from a bombing raid, and to do it very quickly.”

The success of some of the tips will depend on the circumstances and the model of drones used, Colonel Leighton went on to say. “For example, from the air, where perceptions of depth become obfuscated, an imagery sensor would interpret a mat stretched over the top of a car as one lying on the ground, concealing the vehicle.”

Colonel Leighton then added, “New models of drones, such as the Harfung used by the French, or the MQ-9 “Reaper,” sometimes have infrared sensors that can pick up the heat signature of a car whose engine has just been shut off. But, even then, however, an infrared sensor would have trouble detecting a car left under a mat or tent overnight, so that its temperature is the same as on the surrounding ground.”

U.S. officials have said plans are underway to establish a new drone base in northwestern Africa (see next entry below from the Washington Post article linked here, in part) written by Craig Whitlock, February 22, 2013 (The Washington Post).

President Obama announced today that about 100 U.S. troops have been deployed to the West African country of Niger, where defense officials said they are setting up a drone base to spy on al-Qaeda fighters in the Sahara. (I note: to help stop “Yellow Cake” from going to Iraq, right?).

In a letter to Congress, the President said about 40 U.S. military personnel arrived in Niger on Wednesday (February 20, 2013) bringing the total number of troops based there to approximately 100. Mr. Obama said the troops, who are armed for self-protection, would support a French-led military operation in neighboring Mali, where al-Qaeda fighters and other militants have carved out a refuge in a remote territory the size of Texas. 

The drone base in Niger marks the opening of another far-flung U.S. military operation against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, in addition to ongoing combat missions in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The CIA is also conducting air strikes against al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Yemen.

Senior U.S. officials have said for months that they would not put U.S. military “boots on the ground” in Mali, an impoverished nation that has been mired chaos since March when a U.S.-trained Malian army captain took power in a coup. But U.S. troops are becoming increasingly involved in the conflict from the skies and the rear echelons, where they are supporting the French and African militaries seeking to stabilize the region. 

My Summary: Our domestic and foreign Drone program is growing faster than Google’s stocks – this has now become a cottage industry as it were. Al-Qaeda is certainly aware of that and by their concern (the tips on how to avoid Drones) also underscores how people have taken up their activities all around the Globe … with Africa now their main operating area … why? Pretty simple:

1. Lots of people who need “work.”

2. Lots of people willing to join al-Qaeda for various reasons (lack of education and nothing else to do would be my best guess).

But, it also raises questions like who really is funding al-Qaeda in their new efforts in this new part of the world? Really.

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