The United States’ military presence and counterterrorism operations in Central and West Africa have been in the news lately and are raising questions. That is why we filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking immediate release of important related documents. Over the last few years, there has been an alarming expansion of U.S. military bases, troops, and Special Operations forces in the region. Yet the public has far too little information about U.S. activity in what is clearly a new front in the government’s unrestrained and ever-expanding global “War on Terror.” At the same time the U.S. military footprint in Central and West Africa is growing, the Trump administration has relaxed the rules governing the use of military force that are designed to protect civilians and restrict U.S. drone strikes and ground raids.
A recently-concluded Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Niger allowing armed U.S. drones to be flown from Nigerien territory is among the documents CCR is seeking, along with agreements with key regional governments pertaining to U.S. authority to conduct armed counterterrorism operations in their respective countries, and statistical information about the number of U.S. troops, counterterrorism operations, and casualties.
Official documents claim the troops are stationed throughout Africa to “support” African partners in conducting counterterrorism operations, but the actual nature of their role remains unclear. The public was surprised to hear of the deaths of four U.S. service members in Niger—as were members of Congress who said they had no idea the U.S. was operating there. This shows the lack of transparency surrounding U.S. military presence and activity in Central and West Africa.
As we wrote in our FOIA request, “Whereas official documents indicate that U.S. troops are assisting in the fight against regional extremist groups, little is known about which groups they are fighting, the extent to which U.S. troops engage in combat, the impact of these operations, and the legal and political arrangements governing U.S. counterterrorism activities.”
This is the first in a series of periodic “war FOIAs” that CCR intends to file to try to help lift the fog from U.S. counterterrorism activities in Africa and elsewhere as a step to enabling the public to hold the government accountable. Stay tuned, and see below for a link to today’s filing.