“The U.S. military is seeking new authorities to expand its program of lethal drone strikes into Kenya, in order to target al-Shabab fighters in the region, the New York Times reported last week. The request reportedly comes in response to the January 5 al-Shabab attack on the Manda Bay base in Kenya, which killed one U.S. soldier and two private military contractors.
While the authorities have not yet received executive approval, they point toward yet another government effort to expand a secretive and unaccountable killing program on foreign soil. The proposed expansion threatens the lives and safety of civilians living in eastern Kenya, widens an accountability vacuum that human rights and other civil society groups have been fighting for nearly two decades, and keeps the public in the dark about the legal and policy standards that govern it.
To see how a program of drone strikes in coastal Kenya might play out, we can draw lessons from the U.S. program of targeted strikes in neighboring Somalia, the home base of al-Shabab and the primary target of U.S. action against the group up until now. The U.S. has been carrying out drone strikes in Somalia since 2007, but significantly accelerated the pace and number of its strikes during the Trump administration. In 2018, the U.S. government acknowledged 47 airstrikes in the country; in 2019, 63 strikes, and as of late August 2020, it has acknowledged 46 strikes. Additional lethal strikes may have been carried out, but never publicly acknowledged, by the CIA. By contrast, it only acknowledged 42 strikes total between 2007 and 2017, during the Bush and Obama administrations.”