Remote Horizons: Expanding Use and Proliferation of Military Drones in Africa

Drone Use in Africa, France Proceeds with Arms Sales to the Gulf, U.S. to Train Afghans abroad and more



May 10, 2021

Remote Horizons: Expanding Use and Proliferation of Military Drones in Africa

PAX, May 2021

A new report from PAX finds that the use of armed drones is expanding rapidly across the African continent, with few agreed-upon policies, rules, and procedures for their deployment. The report also shows that in the last 14 years, African and foreign states have been involved in drone operations in at least 20 states in North Africa, the Sahel and Horn of Africa.

The expanding use of armed drones poses an especially high risk for civilian protection, as countries come to over-rely on a weapon system that minimizes risk to their own military personnel while also trying to make consequences of drone operations less visible. 

In addition to the use of armed drones by foreign actors, particularly the United States, France, and other western powers, African countries are also expanding their arsenal. Governments across the continent have been employing drones in a variety of counterterror and counterinsurgency missions, using secrecy to obscure the civilian toll of those operations. Additionally, the wide availability of commercial drones has meant non-state actors have also begun using the technology in their operations. 

The report notes that the expanding use of drones by African states is often a result of cooperation with or support from non-African governments, particularly the United States. 

The report makes a series of recommendations to ensure that the use of armed drones minimizes civilian harm, comports with international humanitarian and human rights law, and creates a set of procedures and norms to ensure improved oversight and accountability. To read the full report, click here

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts

Trump’s Secret Rules for Drone Strikes Outside War Zones Are Disclosed

New York Times, May 1

The Biden administration has released rules issued by former president Trump for operations outside of conventional war zones that allowed commanders to make decisions about attacks as long as they fit within broad “operating principles,” including “near certainty” that civilians “will not be injured or killed in the course of operations.” The review discovered that the Trump administration was flexible about allowing exceptions to the requirement of “near certainty” that there would be no civilian casualties, especially regarding civilian adult men. 

U.S. sends more firepower to Middle East as troops withdraw from Afghanistan

CNBC, May 6

The Pentagon has sent two more U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers to the U.S. Central Command region to secure US and coalition forces as they withdraw from Afghanistan, bringing the total number of bombers in the region up to six. Central Command estimates that the US has completed between 2% and 6% of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Voice of America, May 5

The US is carrying out airstrikes against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s Helmand province as Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby says “to the degree we can, as we transition out, we’re going to continue to try to support Afghan national security forces in the field.” Fighting has intensified around Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, where aid groups say some civilians have been forced to flee their homes. 

Reuters, May 5

The European Union will allow the United States, Norway and Canada to join a defense project meant to “overcome delays in moving troops across Europe.” The decision means the US, Norway, and Canada will be the first foreign countries to participate in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) pact.

The Hill, May 6

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley says the U.S. military is considering continuing to train Afghan security forces from different countries after the U.S. completes its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.  

Middle East Eye, May 4

Human Rights Watch has condemned France’s decision to sell 30 Rafale fighter jets to Egypt in a deal worth $4.8 billion. HRW director for France Benedicte Jeannerod said that “by signing a mega-arms contract with Sisi’s government while the latter presides over the worst repression in decades in Egypt, the eradication of the human rights community in the country, and undertakes extremely serious violations under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, France is only encouraging this ruthless repression.”

The Hill, May 3

President Biden will extend a waiver allowing US military assistance to Azerbaijan that had been restricted “over Baku’s conflict with its neighbor Armenia and tension over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.” The waiver applies to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which allows US security assistance to Azerbaijan as long as “the secretary of State certifies that such assistance does not contribute to conflict in the region.”

Al-Jazeera, May 3

Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla al-Manqoush has called for foreign forces and mercenaries to leave the country ahead of elections later this year, urging Turkey to “take steps to implement all the provisions of … the Security Council resolutions and to cooperate together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from the Libyan territories.”


Research, Analysis, and Opinion  

Trump’s Secret Rules for Drone Strikes and Presidents’ Unchecked License to Kill

Just Security, May 3

Over 4 administrations, presidents have claimed the power to authorize secretive and unaccountable killing abroad. President Trump’s rules for the use of lethal force against terrorism suspects abroad, which were recently revealed, “show how far that administration went in casting aside any meaningful constraint on the United States’ use of lethal force abroad without meaningful oversight by Congress or the judiciary, and with devastating consequences for people’s lives,” writes Hina Shamsi (Director of ACLU National Security Project).  

Biden Promised to Crack Down on Egypt’s Dictator. Why Is the President Still Sending Him Weapons?

Mother Jones, April 30

In February, Biden approved nearly $200 million in missiles to Egypt, despite pledges during the campaign to give “no more blank checks” to the el-Sisi regime. In this piece, Dan Spinelli provides context on U.S. security aid to Cairo, and quotes SAM Deputy Director Elias Yousif: “Whether or not this transfer is routine replenishment, as officials are claiming, the message of political support it communicates is unmistakable and goes against the spirit of the Biden Administration’s pledge to break with America’s past embrace of dictators.”

How South African weapons are fuelling war crimes in Yemen

The New Arab, May 3

Writing on South African-made weaponry involved in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Suraya Dadoo provides historical context and an analysis of weapons applications. 

Arms exports, terror and crime: Reducing risk under the Arms Trade Treaty

Saferworld, April 2021

Saferworld’s new report addresses how to implement provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty, with a focus on measures against terrorism and transnational organized crime. The report also provides legal analysis and lays out relevant international conventions and protocols. 

Biden halts drone attacks, offers a new strategy for Africa

The Globe And Mail, April 29

Geoffrey York writes on U.S. drone policy in Somalia, noting that there has not been a single U.S. airstrike recorded there since the inauguration of Joe Biden. This marks a respite for the country, which endured more than 200 missile strikes from U.S. drones and military aircraft during Donald Trump’s four years as president. Under a Biden administration order, U.S. commanders now require White House approval for missile strikes in Somalia, while the administration drafts a new policy for its airstrikes worldwide. According to York, “Mr. Biden has begun shifting U.S. priorities in Africa, introducing a greater emphasis on human rights and paying more respectful attention to a continent that was largely neglected under his predecessor.” Nevertheless, there are still indications that “the changes are relatively modest and sometimes inconsistent.” 

Analysis: Unlike Trump, Biden arms export policy strikes balance on human rights, economics

Reuters, May 5

Despite Biden’s decision to approve a massive weapons sale to the UAE, arms deals to governments that have poor records on human rights “look far less likely from the Biden White House”, according to Mike Stone. Going forward, the Stimson Center’s Rachel Stohl told Stone that Biden’s State Department team is “looking at countries, at individual weapons systems, as well as individual sales.” But as more appointees take their posts at the State Department she said there could be a “paradigm shift on the way in which arms sales are considered as part of holistic efforts to develop and build partnerships and capacity.”

The Biden administration’s wrongheaded argument for staying in Iraq

The Hill, May 5

Bonnie Kristian, a contributing editor to The Week, argues that the original mission in Iraq of regime change is “long since over, as is the secondary project of defeating the ISIS “caliphate. […]   “President Biden was right to set Afghanistan withdrawal in motion, and he should leave Iraq, too.”

Peace is possible in Afghanistan

Al-Jazeera, May 5

Anthony Pahnke and Mirwais Wakil argue that, despite widespread cynicism regarding Afghanistan, the current moment is actually the best opportunity for peace that the country has had since the 1970s. Pahnke and Wakil focus on the importance of economic deals, which are “integral to peace negotiations, including dedicating royalties to provinces, promoting international monitoring to ensure transparency, and targeting infrastructure spending for schools and hospitals.”  



Data Fact of the Week:

Drone Use in North Africa, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa

The graphic above, courtesy of PAX, illustrates the countries in Africa that have had a drone event in North Africa, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa. 

A new report from PAX finds that in the last 14 years, African and foreign states have been involved in drone operations in at least 20 states in North Africa, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa.

Click here for the full report.

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