The Biden administration’s review comes at a time when skyrocketing waves of terrorism and violence have seized Africa’s Sahel region, a vast sub-Saharan scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan, and is threatening to spread. The Islamic State in Libya has actively sought fresh recruits traveling north from West African nations, including Senegal and Chad.
Armed groups have attacked bridges, military convoys and government buildings. The threat is pushing south from the Sahel into areas previously untouched by extremist violence, including the Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo and Ghana, where the Pentagon has a logistics hub.
Security has worsened to the point where the Pentagon’s Africa Command told the Defense Department’s inspector general last year that it had abandoned for the moment a strategy of weakening the Islamist militants, and instead was mainly trying to contain the threat.
“Security continues to deteriorate in the Sahel as instability spreads and threatens coastal West Africa,” Colin Kahl, Mr. Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s top policy official, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written responses to questions in advance of a hearing last week. “We cannot ignore that persistent conflict in Africa will continue to generate threats to U.S. personnel, partners and interests from violent extremist organizations.”
The Pentagon’s Africa Command operates MQ-9 Reaper drones from Niamey, Niger’s capital, 800 miles southwest of Dirkou; and from a $110 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, 350 miles west of Dirkou. The military has carried out drone strikes against Qaeda and Islamic State militants in Libya, but none since September 2019.
Some security analysts question why the United States needs both military and C.I.A. drone operations in the same general vicinity to combat insurgents in Libya and the Sahel. In addition, France, which has about 5,100 troops in the Sahel region, began conducting its own Reaper drone strikes from Niamey against insurgents in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.
A recent report by the International Crisis Group concluded that the military-first strategy of France and its allies, including the United States, has failed. The research and advocacy organization, which focuses on conflict zones, noted in its report that focusing on local peacemaking efforts could achieve more.