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US military seeks authority for counterterrorism drone strikes in Kenya

In January, the terrorist organization Shabab attacked a military base in Kenya that houses some US military personnel. The attack killed three Americans and caused millions of dollars in damage. Now, the US military’s Africa Command is seeking expanded authority to carry out drone strikes against Shabab, also known as al-Shabaab.

Shabab has been around for about a decade. In 2012, the organization pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Multiple countries have designated Shabab a terrorist organization following attacks over the years. Those nations include the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates. Many of its members are teenaged males, recruited in Somalia and Kenya. The group has staged multiple high-profile attacks with significant death tolls. These attacks include the September 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack, the October 14, 2017, Mogadishu bombings, and the December 2019 Mogadishu bombing.

But it was the attack against Kenya’s Manda Bay base that got the US military interested in expanding its ability to target Shabab with drones.

Central African Command

There’s a division within the US military called the Central African Command, also known as simply Africom. With its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, it’s “responsible for US military operations, including fighting regional conflicts and maintaining military relations with 53 African nations. Its area of responsibility covers all of Africa except Egypt, which is within the area of responsibility of the United States Central Command.

File photo shows Shabab fighters who surrendered in Somalia, 2012

Now, according to the New York Times, Africom is seeking additional authority following that January attack on the Kenyan base. It seems under current regulations, Africom could not have initiated a drone strike against Shabab. It’s now seeking to change those regulations to give it the authority to strike in situations it deems necessary.

US military won’t confirm — or deny

The New York Times tried to get the US military to comment on the matter. It would not confirm any specifics about Africom’s alleged push for more authority when it comes to initiating drone strikes:

But according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the draft guidelines would theoretically 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 — like if officials uncovered intelligence about preparations at a compound to assemble a car bomb. Several officials noted, however, that Kenya has a stable government and capable security forces. As a result, the officials did not expect the authorities to prompt the United States to carry out frequent drone strikes there, if any. Still, they said they could envision a situation in which a drone would be the only realistic option to try to pre-empt a terrorist operation.

New York Times

Kenyan permission required

In Somalia, where the US can carry out drone strikes against terrorist targets, the US can act alone. In Kenya, the draft document cited by the Times says the government would have to be consulted. Additionally, the military would have to consult with the US ambassador to Kenya prior to any planned strike.