An unnamed U.S. military officials told WSJ that “while surveillance flights would be the primary mission for the new effort at first, drones launched from the proposed base also could be used in future airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya, and the base could serve as a Launchpad for missions by Special Operations Forces against militants there.”
The quest for U.S. drones in North Africa is an acknowledgement that the jihadist group has managed to amplify its area of influence even though it has been subjected to U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria for almost a year.
Despite the U.S.-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has managed to expand its operations into Libya, enabling militants to train both North African and foreign fighters there and to plot attacks that pose a particular threat to European states just across the Mediterranean.
Unnamed U.S. counterterrorism officials described North Africa as one of the most critical “blind spots” facing U.S. and Western spy agencies.
“Right now, what we are trying to do is to address some real intelligence challenges,” a senior administration official said.
Establishing a base in North Africa in close proximity to ISIS hotbeds in Libya would allow the U.S. to “fill gaps in our understanding of what’s going on” there, added the official.
The official’s comments come as the U.S. and its allies are trying to prevent ISIS from spreading its bloody tentacles beyond Iraq and Syria.
U.S. officials acknowledged having too little intelligence on those activities today because existing bases are too far away to allow for more persistent surveillance. “The long distances that drones now have to travel limit how much time they can spend observing militants in Libya before flying back to refuel and undergo maintenance.” The officials said.
The jihadist group has claimed responsibility for a several recent attacks in North Africa including a terrorist assault at a Tunisian beach resort last month where dozens of foreign tourist were killed by an ISIS-linked attacker.
However, the unnamed senior U.S. officials say that North African nations that could provide access to a base have so far refused to do so.
“Governments in the region see Islamic State as a threat but are worried that the group will target them more squarely if they agree to host the American military,” declares the officials.
Obama administration officials have not named any countries that could potentially host a drone base in North Africa.
“We are cooperating closely with nations in North Africa, the Sahel (a sub-Saharan region), and Europe, which share our concerns about threats emanating from Libya,” White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said, referring to the ongoing discussions for a drone base in North Africa. “This includes gaining greater intelligence about the groups operating there.”