Botswana has approached the United States Air Force requesting for surveillance dronesÔÇöoften made in the U.S.ÔÇöto track militants, poachers and drug traffickers moving across vast and often inhospitable terrain.
After a flurry of terrorist attacks across Africa this week, governments on the continent have approached the US to supply them with surveillance drones
In recent years, Nigeria and Ethiopia have purchased small fleets of drones to track militants and pirates, according to air force officials in Nigeria and the U.S. The U.S. also agreed to give eight small drones to Kenya to monitor al Qaeda-backed rebels there, according to Pentagon documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Air Force officials revealed this week that Botswana has approached them requesting drones to track their endangered population of elephants.
Africa’s entry into drone surveillance has raised legal and human rights questions. The laws in most African countries provide citizens with scant legal protection in the types of images the government can capture, how they can be used and who can have access to them.
For the past few years, the U.S. Air Force has dispatched about a hundred small groups of advisers annually to Africa, said these U.S. Air Force officials, who weren’t authorized to be identified by name. Those U.S. Air Force advisers say they are training mechanics, pilots, technicians, and intelligence analysts in roughly 20 African countries.
At a higher level, U.S. Air Force generals say they’re talking regularly with defense leaders in AfricaÔÇöand increasingly are pushing surveillance aircraft as a cost-efficient way to quash the many insurgencies cropping up across the continent.
Two of those officers, U.S. Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc and Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, spoke about the initiative in broad terms, describing it as an effort to farm out some of America’s anti-terrorism work.
For the U.S., African assistance, however minimal, could help ease pressure on America’s own fleet of drones. The U.S. Air Force keeps tabs on Africa, a continent three times the size of the U.S., with only two drone bases. They are 2,500 miles apart, in Niger in West Africa and in Djibouti in the east.
“This continent has too often been land-centric; we solve our problems with land forces,” said Gen. Franklin. But he said he’d seen a change: “From the smallest countries, you have air chiefs that…are thinking about: ‘OK, with this amount of resources, what can we do?'”
U.S. military assistance to African countries comes as many of them are growing richer and the cost of surveillance equipment is sharply falling. It’s an auspicious confluence of trends for defense contractors in the U.S. and elsewhere that are seeking a toehold on the continent.
Last month, the U.S. Air Force created a private website for African defense chiefsÔÇöa social network where they could share product reviews, and go in on bulk purchases together.