In the early years of the President Barack Obama administration, the U.S. placed militarized drone attacks under the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, the CIA led a bloodshed campaign from the skies against terror groups – predominantly in Afghanistan and Pakistan – with many civilian casualties.
In the late stages of his presidency, President Obama moved to put a stop to the CIA manning the drones attack and placed it under the care of the US military. A move that was said to bring more transparency to the attacks.
However, since January this year, it is reported that the CIA has been installing a new drone airbase in North Africa in secret. That is according to a report published by the New York Times. A move seen as a return to aggressive use of power by the US in its counter-terrorism effort, but this time in North Africa.
The former US administration scaled back on the use of drones’ airstrike against militia groups following a backlash from the innocent civilian casualties. The current US administration seems to be restoring those drones’ attacks and handing it back to the CIA as opposed to the military where it was placed for more transparency.
The new US drones base has been set up in northeastern Niger with its targets believed to be the Islamist militants operating in southern Libya. Government officials from both Niger and USA have confirmed that indeed the CIA has been flying drones for several months now from a small commercial airport in Dirkou.
Satellite imagery in the Times documentary covering the story shows the small Dirkou airstrip has significantly grown since February this year. It now has a new taxiway, security posts, and perimeter walls.
A US official says the drones have so far not been used for lethal attacks, rather conduct surveillance, but it may be used for attacks if the need arises. Something that seems highly likely given the level to terror groups activities in southern Libya.
A US Defense Department spokeswoman, Maj. Sheryll Klinkel said the military has been operating at the Dirkou airfield for several months now, but no drone missions were being done there.
The Times reports contrary to that statement that drones do take off from the Dirkou airstrip at night – usually between 10 PM and 4 AM in the clear, starlit desert skies. A reporter for the publisher further says they saw a gray aircraft, which looks about the same size as the Predator drone of 27 feet long – flying at least three times over six days in August. The drones, unlike the small passenger planes that occasionally land at the airport, had no blinking lights to show their presence.