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Regional Security Analysts Say Africa at Risk of Drone Terrorism

Security experts in Africa are raising concerns about the growing use of drones by terrorist groups and the readiness of government forces to match their sophistication.

A report last week showed African terrorist groups are using global affiliations to acquire and modify drones for their own needs. Though the drones are not yet being used to launch attacks, analysts worry that in the long run, they could change the balance of power with governments.

The Institute for Security Studies report says that while the global focus has been on the adaptation of unmanned aerial systems in Iraq, Syria and other spots in the Middle East, drones are becoming part of the tool kit for violent actors across Africa.

The report said African militant groups like Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province and al-Shabab are acquiring and modifying drones for their own purposes.

It said terror groups use social media and messaging platforms to get the knowledge they need from groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State.

The report also suggested that the increasing affordability of the technology may be contributing to the growing trend.

An analyst for Beacon Security in Nigeria, Kabiru Adamu, worries the drones will make terror groups more powerful.

“It creates another layer of challenge for the already challenged security operations that are in that region. Even though that has more or less been restricted to locations around the Middle East and some parts of Asia, but we’ve also seen indications of that happening in the Lake Chad basin,” Adamu said. “On several instances we’ve had reports of military field operations encountering unmanned aerial vehicles that are mainly for surveillance purposes. We’re yet to pick up any reports that indicate the arming of such unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Terror groups often use drones for propaganda, intelligence gathering or reconnaissance purposes.

Last month, African air force chiefs met in Senegal and said the continent urgently needed to develop sophisticated defenses in response to the growing threat.

But the report said African countries lack the capacity to address the problem. Adamu agrees.

“It will shock you that we do not have any sanctioned or certified methods for mitigating aerial attacks in the country using unmanned aerial vehicles at the moment,” Adamu said. “I think we’re currently trying to develop our capacity for that. It appears to me that the Nigerian military in particular is playing catch-up in this area. The armed groups are ahead.”

Last year, Islamic State West Africa Province used drones to shoot propaganda videos showcasing its training camp.

Also last year, the group’s surveillance drones were spotted over the position of government forces shortly before fighters launched an attack.

Experts say African nations need to develop domestic approaches before they start thinking about regional and continental response.

Chidi Omeje, a security analyst, says there’s no time to waste.

“Just like the report said, they’re watching and learning. So there’s it’s a very serious development, it’s something that the subregion military groups should take particular interest on to see how they can be on top of the situation,” Omeje said. “You know how callous those guys are, and the moment they have such window of opportunity to do more harm, they’ll definitely employ that tactic. It’s quite concerning.”

Experts say Nigeria needs to lead the regional effort but that the country itself lacks a coherent policy to combat armed groups’ use of the drones.

Source: VOA NEWS