U.S. Looks to Position Drones in North Africa

Photo of MQ-9 Reaper drone aircraft (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Photo of MQ-9 Reaper drone aircraft (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

In an effort to “ramp up surveillance” of Islamic State in Libya, the U.S. is talking with countries in North Africa about positioning drones at a base on their soil, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Government officials believe that establishing this type of base would “help eliminate what counterterrorism officials described as one of last and most pressing intelligence ‘blind spots’ facing U.S. and Western spy agencies.” Many feel that the quest for a base in North Africa represents an acknowledgement that ISIL has spread its area of influence despite U.S. and allied bombardment in Iraq and Syria.

Drone flights from the base would provide the U.S. military and spy agencies with real-time intelligence on Islamic State activities in Libya. Because existing bases are too far away for more persistent surveillance, the U.S. has been unable to gather much intelligence of those activities.

Officials have said that a proposed location would almost certainly be a pre-existing base under the sovereign control of the host government, which would in turn permit the U.S. to position drones in that territory along with some U.S. military personnel. To date, none of the countries that could offer access have agreed to do so.

While surveillance flights would be the “primary mission” initially, drones launched from the base could also be used in future airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya. Additionally, the base could serve as a launch pad for missions by Special Operations Forces against militants there, according to U.S. military officials.

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