Tuesday July 31, 2018
By Carley Petesch
US troops in Africa will be protected by drones and armored vehicles in the wake of the deadly October 2017 ambush in Niger. Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Runser/US Army
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The U.S. military in Africa has taken steps to
increase the security of troops on the ground, adding armed drones and
armored vehicles and taking a harder look at when American forces go out
with local troops, the head of the U.S. Africa Command says.
Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser told reporters on Monday the U.S.
also has cut the response time needed for medical evacuations — the
result of a broad review in the wake of last year's ambush in Niger that
killed four U.S. soldiers and four of their Niger counterparts.
"Since that happened, there were significant things to
change and learn," Waldhauser said. "We've done a thorough scrub really
on every level, whether it's at a tactical level ... or how we conduct
business at AFRICOM."
A report is due in
mid-August on actions taken in response to the findings, Waldhauser
said. He released a report in May on the ambush, which has been blamed
on extremists linked to the Islamic State organization.
He said Africa's challenges remain vast, from Islamic State and
al-Qaida-linked groups in the west to al-Shabab in the east.
The U.S. takes a hard look at what is necessary when
accompanying local forces on operations, "in terms of when it's
necessary; is the threat there going against something that's
significant to the U.S. homeland and our national interests," he said.
Drones are part of the strategy to provide
intelligence-gathering for partner nations so they can "consider various
operations and take on these threats," Waldhauser said.
The U.S. has authority to carry out drone strikes in Libya and
Somalia, according to AFRICOM, but Waldhauser confirmed that "we have
been arming out of Niger, and we'll use that as appropriate." The U.S.
says it started arming drones in Niger earlier this year; they are
currently deployed to an air base in the capital, Niamey.
He stopped in Senegal while in the region for an annual senior
leader and communications symposium in Cape Verde, according to the U.S.
The U.S. maintains a small site
at Camp Cisse in Dakar's old airport that allows for U.S. military
aircraft to land and refuel. It also allows for storage and use during
crisis situations in West Africa such as the response to the deadly
Ebola outbreak a few years ago or to any threats against embassies.
America's role on the continent is to build the capacity of local partner forces, Waldhauser said.
"The majority, if not all of the combat operations, will be
conducted by the partner force, not by the United States. So our whole
goal is to get them up to a level that they can deal with the challenges
that they face," he said.
"In no case are we
trying to take the lead. In no case do we want to own the problem,
really in all cases and various methods, whether it be kinetic strikes
in places like Somalia or working bilaterally with G5 countries in the
west," he said, referring to the new five-nation G5 Sahel counterterror
force in West Africa.
When the U.S. does step in
with strikes, "we go out of our way to reach levels of certainty with
whom we know we are up against," he said. Officials and residents in
Somalia, however, more than once in recent months have accused the U.S.
of killing civilians in drone strikes.
Waldhauser also warned that partnership with the U.S. comes with
responsibility and mentioned as an example recent reports of
extrajudicial killings in Cameroon. The United Nations human rights
chief last week said he was "utterly appalled" at a recent video
appearing to show Cameroonian soldiers shooting to death women with
small children strapped to their backs as suspected Boko Haram
"We want to have a strong military relationship with Cameroon.
But their actions will go a long way toward how that will play out in
the future with regards to the transparency on some of these latest
allegations." Waldhauser said.