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On U.S. Drone Bases in Africa

Quinta Jurecic
Thursday, October 15, 2015, 10:06 AM

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama sent a letter to Congress alerting members that 300 U.S.

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Yesterday afternoon, President Obama sent a letter to Congress alerting members that 300 U.S. servicemembers will soon be deployed to Cameroon, “consistent with the War Powers Resolution.” Now, the Washington Post reports that the deployment is part of an effort to establish a new U.S. drone base in Cameroon, which will allow the United States to fly surveillance drones and track fighters from Boko Haram.

The base in Cameroon will be one of many such bases established across Africa in recent years. (The Post provides a helpful map of U.S. drone bases and flights in Africa.) All this activity lead us to ask the question: What has the U.S said about the law underpinning the presence of its drone bases in Africa and the surrounding areas?

The question is not exactly an easy one to answer, given that some drone bases may be used for covert action and thus won’t show up in administration documents. But the practice of sending letters to Congress on the deployment of troops “consistent with” the terms of the War Powers Resolution--if not actually under the authority of said statute--provides a helpful source of documentation.

Drone Bases Reported in WPR Letters

The White House reported the establishment of these bases in letters to Congress consistent with the WPR.

  • Niamey, Niger (reported 2/22/2013)
  • Entebbe, Uganda (reported 3/25/2014)
  • N'Djamena, Chad (reported 5/21/2014)
  • Cameroon (reported 10/14/2015)

Drone Bases Possibly Reported in WPR Letters

These establishment of these bases may have been reported in letters providing consolidated six-month updates on counterterror operations consistent with the WPR, dating 12/7/2005, 6/15/2006, 12/15/2006, 6/15/2009, and 12/5/2009. All these letters refer to deployments in the Horn of Africa, which might include the establishment of drone bases in the following countries.

  • Arba Minch, Ethiopia
  • Manda Bay, Kenya
  • Victoria, Seychelles

Bases Not Reported in WPR Letters

These bases are not mentioned in any WPR letters sent to Congress. They were likely established under Article II powers, the 2001 AUMF, or other statutory authority.

  • Djibouti (formerly located at Camp Lemonnier; moved elsewhere in the country after complaints of crashed drones)
  • Sigonella, Sicily
  • Nouakchott, Mauritania (no longer in use)
  • Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
  • Saudi Arabia (this base is covert; its existence was revealed in this 2013 New York Times story)

The lack of information in WPR letters on the final group of bases is not surprising: most of these bases are or were used for surveillance or targeting of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore would be covered under the aegis of the 2001 AUMF.

All information on WPR letters is taken from the linked Congressional Research Service report by Matthew C. Weed.

Quinta Jurecic is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior editor at Lawfare. She previously served as Lawfare's managing editor and as an editorial writer for the Washington Post.

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