The US is planning to expand secret intelligence bases throughout Africa with a view to combating terrorism in the region, says a new report by the Washington Post. It is the latest in a US push to militarize its presence on the continent.
The plans include the deployment of spy planes equipped with high-tech surveillance technology.
The US is set to extend its influence, opening a number of intelligence air bases “from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator,” said the Washington Post.
The initiative dates back to 2007 and is indicative of the rapid expansion of US Special Forces operations in the region as part of the decade-long war against Al-Qaeda.
The US will use the strategically-placed bases to launch spy planes disguised as private aircraft kitted-out with a range of sensors able to record video, track infrared heat trails and tap into radio and mobile phone signals.
The reasoning behind the ratcheting-up of surveillance on the African continent by the US is the increasing presence of terrorist cells that could potentially destabilize the region.
The Washington Post said that the US government currently has a number of intelligence facilities across Africa, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Seychelles, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
The bases in Burkina Faso and Mauritania are used to spy on Al-Qaeda.
The US military has expressed concerns over the growing influence of the Nigerian terrorist sect Boko Haram, blamed for a wave of bombings in the country in December and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab in Somalia.
In addition, 100 special troops are currently in action in Uganda to hunt for Joseph Kony, the leader of a brutal guerrilla group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Some state department officials have questioned the necessity to step-up a US presence in Africa given that many of the terrorist groups active on the continent represent no direct threat to the US.
In spite of doubts the US continues to rack up its presence in Africa. Last month the Army Times confirmed US military plans to deploy over 3,000 troops across the continent as part of a “regionally aligned force concept.”
US to maintain ‘Light Footprint’ in Africa?
Officially the US is painting an altogether different picture of its operations in Africa. Army General Carter F. Ham top US Africa command officer said that the US is not seeking permanent military bases in the region.
“In Africa, I would say a light footprint is consistent with what we need and consistent with the defense guidance,” said General Carter.
The general said he recognized that some African nations were concerned over increased US military presence across Africa, but stressed that this did not necessarily mean the US would be establishing more bases there.
However, in a testimony to US Congress in March he said that he wanted to increase US surveillance and reconnaissance in Africa.
“Without operating locations on the continent, ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capabilities would be curtailed, potentially endangering US security,” he said.