Opinion: Targeting Ivory Poachers With Drone Strikes Could Salvage Obama’s African Legacy

By Staff Published: January 8, 2017, 1:01 am
Targeting ivory poachers with droneA drone monitors elephants that strayed out of Burunge Wildlife Management Area near Tarangire National Park. Photo: Jonathan Konuche/Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions/Mongabay

Since U.S. President Barack Obama is scrambling to slide through last-minute regulations, he might want to consider one that may save his crumbling African policy legacy and some endangered wildlife.

In following through on promises he made to tackle wildlife poaching, Obama should instruct the U.S. State Department to designate ivory poachers for what they are: Terrorist financiers and facilitators of ISIS- and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in sub-Saharan Africa.

This would add poachers to the drone war on terrorism.

From Huffington Post. Story by D.A. Barber.

Al Shabab, a group the US is already fighting in Somalia and Kenya, raises up to $600,000 a month from ivory supplied by poachers, according to the Elephant Action League.

What is needed is making the life expectancy of these poachers so short – a matter of days – that no one will risk taking the job. And that requires a few well placed military drone strikes on poaching camps from any number of our established drone bases in Djibouti, Niger, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso or the Seychelles.

US African Command – AFRICOM – collaborates with regional governments to combat terrorism and Obama has already escalated US military operations from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti in at least 33 African nations, as well as against piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

With AFRICOM’s primary role of “protecting US interests in Africa,” the US already has allies that include both the US-funded and -implemented Trans-Sahara Counter-terrorism Partnership and the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counter-terrorism battling “non-traditional” security threats in Africa.

President Obama has consistently sent to Congress consolidated reports on operations directed at “stopping the movement, arming and financing of international terrorist groups,” so it’s not a stretch to include wildlife poachers known to undermine regional economies and fund the very groups the US is fighting.

We certainly know where to find the poachers: Obama’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking includes the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. And in February 2015, Obama pledged to use US intelligence agencies to track those who benefit from wildlife trafficking.

Though ratcheting up these efforts to include a few missions to specifically target poachers may seem drastic, it would be practically routine and the US wouldn’t be alone.

The African regions vulnerable to poaching are the same regions struggling to prop-up their economies through wildlife-based tourism even as their wildlife are dwindling. And dwindling they are, even in Africa’s national parks and protected areas. Elephant populations have dropped 30% from 2007 to 2014, according to August 2016’s Great Elephant Census.

Obama has known that time is running out since announcing his sub-Saharan Africa strategy in June 2012.

As easy as Obama recently banned Arctic drilling, established new National Monuments and sanctioned Russia, he can officially designate sub-Saharan Africa’s ivory poachers as terrorist supporters under State Department guidelines.

This would allow him – and the next administration – to unleash the same focused drone attacks on known poaching camps as is already being done against terrorist groups in West and East Africa.

Campaigning for the White House, president-elect Donald Trump declared that halting the spread of terrorist violence would be a foreign policy priority.

So since Trump is set to inherit Obama’s clandestine war in sub-Saharan Africa, why wouldn’t he go after these terrorist-funding poachers “by what ever means necessary,” enduring himself to both wildlife-dependent African communities and to the increasing number of global conservation groups calling for a military response to poaching?

With that in mind, Obama should act now before Trump takes credit for this overdue strategy.

In fact, making good on his promise now to actually “combat” wildlife poaching is an opportunity for Obama to show the world that in Africa, all life matters.

And that alone would go along way towards justifying his Nobel Prize.

Read more at Huffington Post.

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