The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s drone program in Africa is expanding and will target concentrations of al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Nigerian desert, the New York Times said Monday.
Just south of the Libyan border, a covert military base in Duque has been deploying fleets of drones on surveillance missions for several months, a Defense Department spokeswoman, Maj. Sheryll Klinkel told the Times.
She denied the operation of any military missions from the small city airport, however satellite imagery shows five defensive positions, security checkpoints, and walls were constructed in February around the Duque airport.
During an interview with Nigerian Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum, though he was unable to give details on the drones, he said, “All I know is they’re American.”
Reports said the U.S. presence in the region has grown from 100 military personnel to 800 people.
According to the city mayor, Boubakar Jerome, the aircraft have helped to lower the crime rate. However, during the Obama administration, CIA drone operations were curtailed due to the international backlash after hundreds of civilian deaths in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Though the Pentagon never took responsibilities for the attacks, program restrictions were introduced. Last year, the policy was changed after complaints from former C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, who said they were needless and impediments to U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Residents have allegedly joined Islamist militias such as Al Qaeda which is grouped in areas of the Islamic Maghreb such as Algeria, Mali, Niger and Libya, the New York paper said.
Times journalists have reported sightings of “Predator” drones, measuring 27 feet long and were behind the scores of civilian deaths taken from western and north African countries since the early 2000’s.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, over 3,500 victims have died from U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan since 2015, some 300 of these were civilians.