U.S. Africa Command is seeking new authorities to carry out armed drone strikes targeting al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab fighters in eastern Kenya, four American government officials told the New York Times anonymously in a report published on Tuesday.
If granted, the new authorities would “authorize not only drone strikes in self-defense of American troops or collective self-defense of partnered Kenyan forces, but also offensive strikes intended to pre-empt a suspected threat,” as in the theoretical case of officials uncovering “intelligence about preparations at a compound to assemble a car bomb.”
According to the draft plan’s guidelines, the U.S. military would need the permission of the Kenyan government before carrying out any strike. In addition, the U.S. military would be limited to conducting strikes only in a certain portion of Kenya, two officials allegedly said. One official “specifically identified the potential strike zone as Garissa and Lamu Counties,” according to the newspaper.
Garissa and Lamu Counties encompass an airfield at Kenya’s Manda Bay and the country’s nearby border region with Somalia, al-Shabaab’s home base. According to the officials, the U.S. military’s push for greater drone strike authorities within Kenya stems from an al-Shabaab attack in January on the Manda Bay airstrip base, which housed U.S. troops at the time. The attack killed three Americans — one Army soldier and two Pentagon contractors — and caused millions of dollars in damage.
U.S. Africa Command “scrambled immediately after that attack to track and kill the Shabab hit team that had infiltrated the base from Somalia, securing permission on the fly to carry out a drone strike on them in Kenyan territory,” according to the report. The al-Shabaab militants successfully retreated to Somali territory before the U.S. could retaliate, however.
In the incident’s aftermath, U.S. commanders realized the need for working guidelines to carry out drone strikes within Kenya should a similar attack occur in the future. The U.S. already enjoys such privileges in neighboring Somalia, which has “essentially given the United States blanket permission to carry out strikes when it sees fit” due to al-Shabaab’s heavy presence there, according to the report.
News of U.S. Africa Command’s alleged push to expand its powers in Kenya follows shortly after a September 1 report by the Pentagon revealed that China is planning to boost its military presence in Kenya as well.
“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] is seeking to establish a more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the PLA [China’s People’s Liberation Army] to project and sustain military power at greater distances,” the U.S. Defense Department wrote in an annual report to Congress.
“Beyond its current base in Djibouti, the PRC is very likely already considering and planning for additional overseas military logistics facilities to support naval, air, and ground forces. The PRC has likely considered locations for PLA military logistics facilities in … Kenya, Seychelles, [and neighboring] Tanzania,” the report notes.