US soldiers based in Africa are to benefit from an increase in security to boost their safety. The new plans include armed drones, armoured vehicles and a closer look at the circumstances in which US forces go out with local forces, said the head of US Africa Command.
General Thomas D. Waldhauser told reporters on Monday July 30th the US had also cut the response time needed for medical evacuations. The changes are the result of a broad review in the wake of last year's ambush in Niger which left four US soldiers dead, along with four Niger soldiers.
"Since that happened, there were significant things to change and learn," Waldhauser said. "We've done a thorough scrub really on every level, whether it's at a tactical level...or how we conduct business at Africom."
A report is due in mid-August and will cover the actions taken in response to the findings, Waldhauser said. He released a report in May on the ambush, which has been blamed on extremists linked to Isis.
He said Africa's challenges remain vast, from Isis and al-Qaida-linked groups in the west to al-Shabab in the east.
The US is also taking a hard look at what is necessary when accompanying local forces on operations, "in terms of when it's necessary; is the threat there against something that's significant to the US homeland and our national interests?" he said.
An additional part of the strategy is to provide intelligence to partner nations including the use of drones. This allows partners to "consider various operations and take on these threats," Waldhauser said.
The US has been granted authority to carry out drone strikes in Libya and Somalia, according to AFRICOM. Waldhauser would only confirm that "we have been arming out of Niger, and we'll use that as appropriate."
The US confirmed it had started arming drones in Niger earlier this year; these strike-capable drones are currently deployed at an air base in the capital, Niamey.
Waldhauser stopped in Senegal while in the region for an annual senior leader and communications symposium in Cape Verde.
The US maintains a small site at Camp Cisse in Dakar's old airport. This allows for US military aircraft to land and refuel. It also allows for storage and use during crises in West Africa, such as the response to the deadly ebola outbreak a few years ago. Threats to embassies can also be responded to from this site.
America's role on the continent is to build the capacity of local partner forces, Waldhauser said.
"The majority, if not all of the combat operations, will be conducted by the partner forces, not by the United States. So our whole goal is to get them up to a level where they can deal with the challenges they face," he said.
"In no case are we trying to take the lead. In no case do we want to own the problem, really in all cases and various methods, whether it be kinetic strikes in places like Somalia or working bilaterally with G5 countries in the west," he said, referring to the new five-nation G5 Sahel counterterror force in West Africa.
When the US does step in with strikes, "We go out of our way to reach levels of certainty about whom we know we are up against," he said. Officials and residents in Somalia have on more than one occasion accused the US of killing civilians in drone strikes.
According to AP, Waldhauser also warned that partnership with the US comes with responsibility and gave as an example recent reports of extrajudicial killings in Cameroon. The United Nations human rights chief last week said he was "utterly appalled" by a recent video appearing to show Cameroonian soldiers shooting women with small children strapped to their backs. The group was suspected of supporting Boko Haram.
"We want a strong military relationship with Cameroon. But their actions will go a long way towards how that will play out in the future with regards to the transparency on some of these latest allegations." Waldhauser said.