Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nigeria And The Drone In The Sahel


The good, the bad and the bizarre

12:20 am
By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor
Nigerian Vanguard

Will the drone be used in the Sahel? Put differently, will the United States order drone strikes on terrorist cells in West African states? That is the big question that confronts states and non-state actors in the on-going war against Al-Qaeda and its local affiliates in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.

But the reputation of the drone for causing collateral damage when in action remains a concern about the usefulness or otherwise of the unmanned aircraft especially in fighting the invisible enemy. Yet there are other uses of the drone that recommends it to nations and organisations for crime fighting.

When news filtered in that the United States had reached agreement with the Republic of Niger to set up a drone base in the West African state, there were concerns about the location of this war machine, especially the possibility of violating Nigeria’s territorial integrity and internal security. Nigeria and Niger Republic share borders and essential demographic features, particularly in northern parts of Nigeria.

The move especially unsettles the security and intelligence communities in Nigeria about the implications of having such equipment that can gather sensitive information about the country, but Prof. Fred Aja Agwu, a senior Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, told Sunday Vanguard that Nigeria has been weakened by its own internal crisis, that it could not utter a word on such brazen act the could compromise its intenal security. Agwu said the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorists groups show that insurgency in region has been internationalised.

According to him, the local insurgents have been infiltrated and the “Nigerian security and intelligence communities have proved incapable of coping with the situation”, so they need external help.

The activities of Boko Haram and Ansaru show that Nigeria is an area of interest for drone surveillance, whether in Niger or in Nigeria.

Prof. Ogbabe Oche, echoing Agwu, said the presence of drones in Niger Republic may serve as a deterrence to terrorists but its implications for national security cannot be overlooked. He explained that the drone option has become necessary because Nigeria is not showing that it is capable of defending its territorial integrity and upholding the security of its citizens.

Drone Technology

The drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is used for surveillance and targeted attacks on suspected terrorists and they have been used by the United States which developed the technology. The drone is remotely controlled and has visual sensors that allow those operating it to focus on intended targets. It carries different types of weapons. For instance, the MQ-9 drones can employ four lasser guided Hellfire missiles and time sensitive targets.

Former US President George W. Bush was the first to order drone strikes in 2008 in Pakistan during his last days in office. There are various types of drones namely the MQ-IB predator which is used for medium altitude long endurance mission. It performs intelligence gathering and has what the military call munition capabilities. The second type is the MQ-9 reaper which is used primarily for hunting and killer mission. It also has the capacity for intelligence gathering. It is designed to find, fix, track, get, examine and assess against high value, fleeting and time sensitive targets.

Former CIA Director General Leon Panetta described the drone as “very effective” as it “has achieved high level of precision attacks on targets. Military experts believe that the US drone has changed the nature of modern warfare because it is surgically precise and high effective.”

Drone in Warfare

Until 2008, drones were used for intelligence gathering in Pakistan. But, in that year, the US fired the first missile from a drone at a terrorist target in Waziristan. The US used the stealthy UAV RQ-17 drones to fly over Osama Bin Laden compound in Pakistan, to monitor the compound before the advance of the Navy Seals that killed him on May 2, 2011.

The US secret drone campaign against Al Qaeda ;and its affiliates has changed the face and nature of modern warfare. It has become a key weapon in US arsenal against suspected terrorists and the prospects of using it in the Sahel cannot be ruled out as Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb continues to grow in strength and presence in the region. Only US, UK and Israel have launched drone strikes against their enemies.

According to reports from Pentagon, the US has about 8,000 drones and it has carried out about 349 drone strikes in Pakistan, 61 in Yemen while it is estimated that between 1,500 to 2,500 persons may have died from this modern form of warfare. The casualty rate is believed to be high among non- combatants and non-terrorists but many people also argue that this is the propaganda of terrorists who want to draw sympathy to themselves and increase the criticisms against the use of drones to hunt them.

Global Drones Race

Israel has, over the years, led the world in developing unmanned aerial vehicle system (UAS). According to America Aerospace Study (2011), there are about 680 of UAS. And about 70 countries including China, UK, Australia, Russia are known to have such technology. Even Iran, which claimed that it it brought down one US drone, has acquired the technology.

China revealed in 2010 that it has 25 drone models. Today, there are more countries lining up to acquire the technology and usage of drones either for domestic or military purposes. In the US, the police use drones for law enforcement duties, especially to gather intelligence.

The Obama administration, which has been secretive about the use of drones, is known to have ordered more drone strikes against suspected terrorists outside the shores of the US than its predecessor. The administration is now faced with the responsibility of mobilising a global consensus on the use of drones.

In the US, there have been debates within government and Congress on legal justification for the use of drones especially targetting US citizens on American soil or abroad if they are found to be involved in acts of terrorism. There is increasing public demand for information on how the drones are used.

Apart from the issue of regularising the drone programme, it has become necessary to draw a guideline. There is, therefore, the need “to ensure that the future use of drones conforms with existing international and humanitarian laws”.

Under the international law, terrorists are considered civilians and killing them is only legal if they are caught in the act of committing an attack. Some experts argue that drones create more terrorists than they kill them.

Apart from military uses, drones have been used for search and rescue operations, tracking of weather disasters, especially after storms, hurricanes, earth quakes, etc.

The Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya wants to use drones to monitor wild life to deter poachers. This is an experience that could be useful to Nigeria in tracking incidence of pipeline vandalism.

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