France has decided to arm its surveillance drones in West Africa in efforts to intensify their counterterrorism. The move comes in efforts to strengthen their fight against Islamist militants in the region. French President Emmanuel Macron has made fighting Islamist militants his primary foreign policy objective, and the move to armed drones fit into a more aggressive policy at a time when it looks increasingly unlikely Paris will be able to withdraw from the region in the medium to long-term.
France currently has five unarmed Reaper reconnaissance drones positioned in Niger’s capital Niamey to support its 4,000-strong Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in Africa, and one in France. A further six of 12 Reaper drones, built by U.S. firm General Atomics and ordered after France’s 2013 intervention in Mali to eventually replace its EADS-made Harfang drones, are due to be delivered by 2019.
The move has come as an aggressive plan to counter the increasingly mobile enemy that disappear into the vast Sahel desert and dissimulates himself amidst the civilian population.
France is also working with Germany, Italy, and Spain to develop a European drone, which is expected to be ready by 2025.