US sanctions $41 million military package to East Africa

By Staff Writer

A US Marine prepares to launch the Raven, a hand-launched US military reconnaisance aircraft that is being sent to Kenya.

On the day we received news that the United States has decided to cut military aid to Rwanda as a punishment for its support of the M23 rebels now fighting the government of President Joseph Kabila, we are receiving information that President Barack Obama has sanctioned an aid package totalling US$41.4 million to enable four East African countries acquire arms to fight the Al-Shabaab militias in Somalia.

Reports reaching our news desk Sunday said the US Government had after all decided to act on a recent report by the UN that President Paul Kagame’s government was supporting and training the M23 rebels. While Gen Kagame has vehemently denied the accusations, the US announced over the weekend it would curtail its military aid to Rwanda.

However, military observers in the Great Lakes region say the amount of just $200,000 that the US has decided to allocate elsewhere is so derisory and is seen as a simple gesture to Rwanda of the US’s uneasiness over Kagame’s behaviour towards his neighbours. The US still remains President Kagame’s strongest supporters and military aid to the country is feared to still be in hundreds of millions of dollars.

In a move that is seen as a clear sign that the Americans are stepping up their military operations in East Africa, the Pentagon is preparing to send hand-launched drones to Kenya as part of a $40 million-plus military aid package designed to help four African countries fight al Qaeda and al Shabaab militants, notably in Somalia, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A report seen by the Wall Street Journal says Kenya would get eight “Raven” unmanned aerial systems – an unarmed drone that can be used to identify targets for strikes by ground forces or other aircraft. “This assistance will improve the tactical effectiveness and operational reach of the Kenyan National Defense Forces engaged in CT (counter-terrorism) operations against al Shabaab in Somalia,” the newspaper quoted a Pentagon document as saying.

The Ravens for Kenya would be part of an initial $41.4 million package that also would include trucks, communications gear and rifles for Burundi, Djibouti and Uganda, the newspaper said. The United States provided Ravens to Uganda last year, it added, citing officials and documents.

The Defense Department and the State Department had no immediate comment. U.S. government-to-government arms transfers are presided over by the State Department, subject to an often- lengthy congressional review process. The newspaper cited officials as saying the military aid package would be meant to help key African allies in the region go after Al- Shabaab and other al Qaeda supporters.

The Raven is a lightweight unmanned aircraft system (UAS). It is designed for rapid deployment and high mobility for military and commercial operations. The Raven meets US army requirements for low-altitude reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. It can be operated manually or programmed for autonomous operation, utilising the system’s advanced avionics and GPS navigation. Each Raven costs about $35,000, but the total system costs around $250,000.

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