US Military seeks authorization to carry out armed drone strikes in Kenya

Armed drone
An armed US drone striking. [Photo: courtesy]

The US military’s Africa Command is pushing for authorization to carry out armed drone strikes in parts of eastern Kenya rife with Al-Shabab militants.

US military Africa Command has since drafted the authorities which are yet to be approved by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and US President Donald Trump.

According to the New York Times, this “does not necessarily mean the United States will start carrying out drone attacks in Kenya” but “it would give Africa Command permission under certain circumstances to expand the counterterrorism drone war into another country.”

The push for the authorization to use armed drone strikes, officials said, was triggered by an attack on a joint Kenya-US military base in Manda Bay, Lamu early this year where two US military contractors and a soldier were killed in a Shabaab attack.

The damage caused was to the tune of millions of dollars.

US commanders frantically responded after the attack trying to pursue the Shabaab militants who had infiltrated Kenya from Somalia. US officials say the Africa Commanda requested for permission to carry out a drone strike while on Kenya territory but the insurgents had already retreated to Somali.

It was in this pursuit that the US military Africa Command discovered that they lacked guidelines to conduct drone strikes ultimately leading to the drafting of the regulations to be followed in readiness to counter a future attack by the militants.

In the guidelines, the US will seek Kenya’s authorization to carry out a drone airstrike but will require no permission to carry out a drone airstrike in Somalia since it is already approved.

Col. Christopher P. Karns, Africa Command’s chief spokesman declined to divulge more on the issue only saying that it is an urgent matter.

“Africom certainly recognizes the need to apply consistent international pressure on Al-Shabab and to monitor their activity, presence, and actively confront them in order to prevent their spread. This can take several forms,” he responded in an email to the New York Times.

Lt. Col. Anton T. Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, added in an email, “The U.S. military will defend U.S. personnel, citizens and homeland as necessary anywhere in the world.”

The armed drone strikes, going by the draft guidelines, will not only provide self-defence for American troops but will also avert an imminent threat based on irrefutable intelligence.

Some officials, however, indicated that Kenyan security forces are capable of handling such a threat, therefore, the move by the US military Africa Command to push for the authorization to carry out drone strikes was far-fetched.

In February 2020, a US official intimated, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked Trump for additional counterterrorism assistance, including “armed aerial support” to help combat terrorism.

The Kenyan Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to questions on the draft guidelines.

The US Defense Secretary is reportedly said to have been reluctant to approve the guidelines amid complaints from a section of the Congress who said they were left out of the whole process.

 “We need to do whatever’s necessary to defend American lives and interests, but that doesn’t require starting a drone war in Kenya without consulting Congress and using a war authorization that’s two decades old,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.