Report: U.S. has established extensive covert surveillance operation in sub-Saharan Africa
A new report from the Washington Post revealed this week that the U.S. military has opened a new front, a surveillance front, in Africa against al-Qaeda. Small planes are being used extensive to gather intelligence on Qaeda operations all around Africa's embattled states.
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, is the hub of a vast, secret war involving covert surveillance and assassinations targeting al-Qaeda and other terror organizations — in Africa and around the world.
That's according to a new report from the Washington Post.
This covert operation seems to be the first initiative of a global strategy focused on failed states around the world, a way of repressing terrorists in these lawless, chaotic places.
Craig Whitlock, National Security reporter at the Post and the author of the story, said that while drones are being used as a part of this, but that's not the exclusive weapon. In fact, according to Whitlock, sometimes small, private planes, loaded with high-tech sensors and cameras, are flown around Africa on intelligence missions.
"I think this is something that's clever, on one hand, but, is something that hasn't really been discussed or debated back in the United States or even in these countries," he said.
African skies are filled with small planes, flying people and supplies all over the country. That's part of what makes this strategy so effective: it's hiding in plain sight.
"If they were flying a drone or if you had a Predator or Reaper aircraft in parts of Africa, they'd stick out like a sore thumb," Whitlock said. "These small planes...they just blend in like everything else."
The pilots of these planes typically aren't uniformed military service members. Rather, they're typically contractors, helping them blend in as well.
The presence of this U.S. operation in Burkina Faso, a former French colony, is somewhat puzzling. It doesn't have long ties to the United States and it's extremely poor.
"What Burkina Faso brings strategically is that it's located to the south of the Sahara and near some of these chaotic states," Whitlock said.
An al-Qaeda affiliate has taken root in the sub-Saharan Africa region, and Burkina Faso is a relatively stable nation close by, but relatively unbothered by al-Qaeda.
It turned out, Whitlock said, to be a very good place for the United States to base this operation.
While the operation is secret, Whitlock said on his trip to Ouagadougou locals had noticed the presence of some 50 to 60 Americans. It wasn't a place where Americans were typically seen.
So the presence of quite a few young, fit Americans men with short haircuts attracted attention.
"But I don't think they knew the details," Whitlock said.
USAFRICOM, the military command charged with overseeing operations in Africa, didn't deny any of the details in the Washington Post report, but declined to discuss specific operations.
"They said these partnerships they have with African countries that allow them to conduct surveillance are a valuable part of their strategic approach to containing and keeping an eye on terrorist groups," Whitlock said.
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