Global Policy Forum

US Will Be Launching Predator Strikes in the Horn


By Kevin J. Kelley

March 3, 2006

East Africa could be the site of lightning strikes by US special forces and aerial drone weapons in coming years as part of what the Pentagon is terming "the long war" against Islamist militants. The Horn is specifically cited in the recently completed Quadrennial Defence Review as one of the global regions of growing concern to US strategists. The long war is to be fought not only in current conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan but rather in "large swathes of the world," a Pentagon official said while outlining the new US strategic plan. "We are engaged in things in the Philippines and in the Horn of Africa. There are issues in the pan-Sahel region of north Africa," the official noted. The US military is also putting increasing emphasis on civic affairs teams of the type that have been carrying out infrastructure improvements in Kenyan coastal communities close to the border with Somalia.

The quadrennial review refers to the US military base in Djibouti as "a prime example of distributed operations and economy of force" that American defence planners seek to replicate in the coming years. It is from the Djibouti base, established following the 2001 attacks on the US, that the American Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa dispatches military units to help patrol Kenya's land and sea borders. Civic affairs teams are also trained in Djibouti for their work in Kenya. "Military, civilian and allied personnel work together to provide security training and to perform public works and medical assistance projects, demonstrating the benefits of unity of effort," the defence review says in regard to the Djibouti-based operations. "Steps toward more effective host nation governance have improved local conditions and set the stage to minimise tribal, ethnic and religious conflict, decreasing the possibility of failed states or ungoverned spaces in which terrorist extremists can more easily operate or take shelter."

US strategy in the long war also involves increased reliance on friendly forces that are to be trained in counterinsurgency and reconnaissance by a newly created 2,600-member US Marine Corps unit. Kenyan troops have already been receiving training of this sort. Pentagon planners strongly imply they hope to expand such co-operative initiatives. "We realise that in almost all circumstances, others will be able to do the job less expensively than we can, because we tend to have a very cost-intensive force," Pentagon policy official Ryan Henry said at a press briefing last week. "But many times they'll be able to do it more effectively too because they'll understand the local language, the local customs, they'll be culturally adept and be able to get things accomplished that we can't. So building a partnership capability is a critical lesson learned."

But those plans could be thwarted in the case of Kenya by a US law that mandates sharp cuts in military aid to countries that have refused to sign bilateral agreements shielding American personnel from prosecution through the International Criminal Court. President George W. Bush's budget proposals for the coming fiscal year include such reductions in military training and weapons-procurement assistance for Kenya because it has not entered into a so-called Article 98 agreement with the US. The Defence Department is also signalling its intention to carry out unilateral quick strikes it deems necessary in fighting the long war. A proposed 15 per cent increase in special operations forces and the addition of hundreds of drone weapons suggest that the US will continue to launch pre-emptive attacks on targets in countries where militant Islamists may pose threats to US interests.

New close-to-shore, high-speed naval capabilities projected in the Pentagon's planning document would likely be used in anti-piracy operations already being undertaken by US forces along the coasts of Kenya and Somalia. Tanzania and Somalia are also seen, along with Kenya, as vulnerable to infiltration by Al Qaeda elements. The US could thus decide to strike suspected Al Qaeda elements in East Africa with Predator drones of the sort used in just such an attack that killed six people as they were riding in a vehicle in Yemen in 2002. US and allied strategic thinking regarding Africa was articulated last week by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw while on a visit to Nigeria. "The terrorist threat to and from Africa is likely to grow in the next 10 years," Straw said. US strategy in the long war also involves increased reliance on friendly forces that are to be trained in counterinsurgency and reconnaissance by a newly created 2,600-member US Marine Corps unit.

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