John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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U.S. Drone Base in Cameroon

by John Campbell
October 16, 2015

A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper stands on the runway during "Black Dart", a live-fly, live fire demonstration of 55 unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, at Naval Base Ventura County Sea Range, Point Mugu, near Oxnard, California, July 31, 2015. (Reuters/Patrick T. Fallon) A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper stands on the runway during "Black Dart", a live-fly, live fire demonstration of 55 unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, at Naval Base Ventura County Sea Range, Point Mugu, near Oxnard, California, July 31, 2015. (Reuters/Patrick T. Fallon)

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President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States is establishing a drone base in Cameroon and will deploy up to three hundred military personnel has been enthusiastically welcomed by Cameroonian President Paul Biya and Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari.

The drone base will provide intelligence support to the multilateral coalition fighting Boko Haram, the radical, jihadist group that seeks to destroy the Nigerian state. The drone base in Cameroon will be the thirteenth surveillance base established by the United States on the African continent. Eight of them are in the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and the Seychelles). They are likely to have a focus on the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean as well as Africa. The drone base in Uganda is part of the effort to destroy the Lord’s Resistance Army, a central African terrorist group, as mandated by Congress. In West Africa, there are U.S. surveillance facilities in Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and now Cameroon.

The establishment of U.S. military facilities in Chad and Cameroon is not without risk, even though the mission is, apparently, intelligence gathering only rather than “boots on the ground.” However, a fire-fight with Boko Haram is always possible, with the risk of subsequent deeper involvement.

Perhaps more serious, a U.S. military presence strengthens the partnership with two authoritarian dictators long in power. Chad’s Idriss Deby has ruled for twenty-one years, Cameroon’s Paul Biya for thirty-three. In Cameroon there are certain parallels with Nigeria in that Boko Haram in both countries is active in Muslim areas traditionally marginalized by their respective capitals. A difference is that Biya’s government is Christian, while Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria is a Muslim. For good or ill, with the establishment of surveillance bases in West Africa, the United States is becoming more involved in the struggle against Boko Haram, a movement which we know remarkably little about beyond its penchant for bloodshed and its Salafist theological outlook that is widely shared in the Sahel by many who are not adherents. Notwithstanding its “pledge of allegiance” to the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram appears decentralized and local in focus. The evidence that its attacks are coordinated within Nigeria and across national boundaries is not compelling.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Leslie cosgrove

    I would like your take on the similarities between boko haram and the LRA.

  • Posted by jjc

    if the US involvement is limited to intelligence gathering to help the local troops on the ground then it might succeed but once the mission extends to missile strikes, then the potential for accidents like the strike on msf facility in afghanistan will increase ultimately eroding crucial local support for the mission. these locals have suffered, no missile strikes pls

  • Posted by Etchi Besem

    It is interesting that US foreign policy now collaborates with an African dictator? Crude oil does work miraculous associations. So what became of the French mercenaries captured among Boko Haram when the Cameroonian Army raided a camp? I would think the US would send Trucks to evacuate the people to the south for safety, what are drones supposed to do to little girls wearing bombs? Unless this whole saga is really not about Boko Haram just like Boko Haram is not about religion? The last time Western armies landed in Cameroon, they never left, today neo-colonisers are here to finish what was left undone.

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