On OCTOBER 14, President Barack Obama announced to Congress that America’s global war on Islamic terrorism had expanded to yet another front: The U.S. was sending 300 troops to a new drone base inside Cameroon, along that country’s volatile border with Nigeria, where Boko Haram is most active. Founded in 2002 by a fundamentalist Islamic preacher in Maiduguri, in Nigeria’s destitute northeast, Boko Haram opposes Western education, literature, and science, and transformed itself in 2010 into a terrorist group that has raped, tortured, and killed tens of thousands of civilians in the past five years.
“These forces … will remain in Cameroon until their support is no longer needed,” Obama stated. A White House official later said the troops would not be used for combat, but to oversee intelligence gathering and surveillance. The president didn’t reveal the exact location of the new facility, but the U.S. ambassador to Cameroon, Michael Hoza, said it would be in Garoua, the site of a Cameroonian air force base. No Western journalists had apparently visited this place since Obama’s announcement, little had been written about it in the American media, and the Pentagon was keeping quiet, so I set out to find out what was going on.
Garoua represents the newest expansion of America’s stealth war against jihad in Africa. Piloted and unmanned aircraft have flown from bases in Djibouti — the center of U.S. drone operations on the continent — as well as Ethiopia and Kenya, in addition to ships off the coast of East Africa. Predator MQ-1 drones and their larger cousins, MQ-9 Reapers, have been based in Niamey in Niger, N’Djamena in Chad, and Seychelles International Airport. There is plenty more to come. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2016 appropriated $50 million for construction of an “Airfield and Base Camp at Agadez, Niger … to support operations in western Africa.”