The U.S. is now using drones in Western Africa to help the French fight Islamists in Mali. Niger has given the U.S. permission to fly out of that country. It is an escalation of U.S. involvement in the region, but not a surprising move.
According to Reuters, President Obama said of drones in Africa, "This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region."
So does that mean the drones aren’t armed? Are we meant to believe that if the drones see a target of opportunity the drone pilot will not engage?
Those upset by sequestration might be a bit peeved to see the administration spending millions of dollars a day to maintain staff and drones to help out the French while civilian department of defense and contractor staff in the U.S. are being furloughed. Though actual numbers are hard to come by, there will be at least some hardship for American workers who rely on defense spending.
But ultimately it is a good idea for the U.S. to be providing drone cover for the French as they fight Islamists in Mali. Opinions differ as you might expect. There are protests and ongoing writing campaigns to get Congress to approve this drone deployment.
The Washington Post now notes that U.S. support for France's military campaign could "test U.S. legal boundaries," that direct U.S. military aid to Mali is "forbidden under U.S. law because the weak rump government there seized power in a coup," and that some fighters who may be targeted by France are "longtime foes of the Malian government and pose no direct threat to U.S. interests."
Al-Qaeda is offering advice to fellow Islamists under threat of drones in Mali. The local mat traders are doing a storming business in their attempt to avoid detection. What we could see is yet another situation in which the anti-war left and the Tea Party movement join together to force Congressional approval of this move.