US military wants to carry out drone strikes in Kenya: report

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he met President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, August 27, 2018. [File, Standard]

The United States military is seeking approval to launch covert drone strikes against terrorists from its base in Kenya, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

If granted, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) will target Al-Shabab insurgents in eastern Kenya, especially Garissa and Lamu counties, said the report quoting four senior but unnamed American officials.

The request for the new strike authorities follows the January 5 attack at Manda Bay, Lamu, when militants overran an airfield and killed three American commandos.

A drone offensive was approved during the brazen Manda attack, the Times reported, but was not used as the militants escaped by retreating to their Somalia territory.

Under the proposed deal, AFRICOM now hopes to get its guidelines in order should Al Shabab, an al-Qaida linked group, attacks again.

The drone warfare will not only be used in self-defence of American troops or collective self-defence of partnered Kenyan forces but also an offensive to neutralise potential threats.

The authority is subject to approval by the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and then President Donald Trump who is keen on relaxing limits on drone strikes and raids outside conventional battlefields.

Kenyan authorities will also have to green light flying attack drones in its territory. This is a deviation from countries like Somalia who have allowed the US to fly drones when they so choose.

AFRICOM declined to comment on the draft rules for potential airstrikes but told the Standard Digital that the United States and Kenya shared a commitment to regional security and stability.

The agency’s Director of Public Affairs Col. Chris Karns said Al Shabab was the "most capable" terrorist group on the African continent. 

"As such, there is a need to apply consistent international pressure on the terrorist organisation and to monitor their activity and presence. We will continue to actively place pressure on their network and work with partners to prevent their spread," he said.

"Kenya is a regional leader in the fight to defeat Al-Shabab and ISIS, and provides critical contributions to the African Union Mission in Somalia," he added, and referred us to the Office of the Secretary of Defense - Public Affairs for additional information.

The new proposal comes in the wake of intensified commitment by both Kenya and the US to crash Al Shabab fighters have waged an insurgency for more than a decade.

President Uhuru Kenyatta met his American counterpart Donald Trump in August 2018 to forge partnerships including on security, especially the fight against terrorism.

Trump and Uhuru pledged to deepen security cooperation to enhance American support for the Kenya Defence Forces. At the time, the US had provided over Sh25 billion in boats, helicopters and aircraft as well as training and information to support the KDF.

Drone attacks, touted as the natural evolution in the science of war, seeks to provide low risk tactical engagements. They have, however, not been free of allegations of civilian casualties.

A human rights watch report said US drone strikes in Somalia in early 2020 killed seven civilians.

In one of the attacks on February 2, one woman was killed at her home, the lobby said. Five men and a child in a minibus were also killed in a March 10 attack.

AFRICOM in its quarterly report on civilian casualty assessments published on April 27, 2020 said it was carried out 91 airstrikes against violent extremist Organisations in Somalia and Libya between February 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.

During the period, there were 70 allegations about 27 separate possible civilian casualty incidents with approximately 90 alleged civilian casualties, it said.

"As of March 31, 2020, 20 alleged incidents are closed, and seven incidents are still under review. One of the 20 closed allegations that stemmed from this period has been substantiated by the command," reads the report seen by Standard Digital.

While AFRICOM has admitted to four civilian deaths since 2007, Amnesty International says it has documented 21 civilian deaths in 9 strikes between October 2017 and February 2020.

AFRICOM has also been flying drones out of Niger since 2017 but has not reported any drone strike within the territory of the West African Country.