A US airstrike in south east Libya on 29 November killed 11 Taureg mistakenly thought to be terrorists. Menas Associates investigations have found that the US intelligence was based on unchecked and unverified third hand information, and did not kill 11 al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorists as claimed by US Africa Command (AFRICOM), but instead killed 11 innocent Tuareg who had nothing to do with AQIM.
The airstrike, which was close to Al-Uwaynat about 100 kms north of Ghat on the tarmac road from Ubari to Ghat, will escalate existing fears expressed by many people in the Sahel regarding the proliferation of regional US military drone bases and Washington’s stated intention to turn to drone warfare in the region.
This runs against a backdrop of increased drone presence. The Americans are building a large AB201 drone base at Agades and the other base at Dirkou (both in Niger), with the latter apparently being used on a temporary basis.
The people of the Agades region fear that the Aïr Mountains to the north of the city are being reconnoitred by Islamic State (IS) affiliated groups in Libya as a possible new operational base. The risk is that the drone base’s presence in Agades could lead to IS attacks being launched in the heavily populated Aïr Mountains with serious repercussions for civilians.
The Dirkou base was kept secret by the US authorities until it was revealed by the New York Times in September. It is highly likely that several drone attacks have taken place already.
Despite the denials and disinformation from AFRICOM and others it is becoming clear that the US intends to maintain, and perhaps even increase, its drone and manned airstrike capabilities against its perceived enemies in the Sahel and North Africa region.
The 29 November airstrike near Al-Uwaynat shows why the people of the Sahel have every reason to fear this development.