American officials are calling for stronger and more aggressive tactics against Islamist terrorist groups in West Africa, following the recent killing of four Green Berets in Niger (4 October).
There is now a possibility of arming drones in the African region to fight growing terrorism especially Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) which has been in operation and active for some years now.
Juan Zarate, a former Bush administration counterterrorism adviser, said, “It demonstrates that the war on terror is migrating. And that the “US is expanding its use of lethal force.”
Experts observe that If the US is able to get the cooperation of the Niger government to arm US drones, currently used for intelligence gathering in the region, it would complement the French who are already using their unmanned aircraft with lethal capabilities against the terrorist groups.
Niger and Mali are currently the main recruiting and training ground for terrorists – both IS and Al-Qaeda – in the region. There is also the threat of the Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group in northern Nigeria with a high possibility of an alliance or merger with AQIM.
Poverty in this region of Africa, weak governance and free movement of Islamist terror groups are considered by US officials to be the main reasons why it is such a fertile recruiting ground. The previous Obama administration had declined to allow armed drones to fly over the region, but the military has been pressing for some time to reverse that decision, claimed officials.
Colonel Rob Manning, a Defense Department spokesman, stated that he would not comment on “possible initiatives by the administration” adding that “the Department of Defense will always ensure our forces are properly equipped and have the necessary capabilities to accomplish their mission and defeat any threat.”
Officials claim that the Green Berets were targeted while performing a counter-terrorism mission in the area from which only scarce details have emerged since the incident took place three weeks ago.
“This will be great news and a welcomed development for us and our communities in Niger,” said the Rev Bala Salihu, a missionary working in Niger.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor GCN and Priest, Anglican Diocese of Jos