James Walker and I have an article forthcoming in Geopolitics (see here for final draft) that traces the growing U.S. military presence in Africa. One of the things we examine is the use of flight contractors for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) gathering. This map, for example, shows sites and areas of operation of the Creeksand and Tuskersand programs.
Another potential operation/site that was left out of the paper was the mysterious case of ISR flights over Tunisia last March. These flights originated from the airport on the small Italian island of Pantelleria, located just 50 miles from Tunisia. The aircraft, N351DY, is a Beechcraft King Air registered to Aircraft Logistics Group, one of a portfolio of aerospace and defense companies owned by a private equity firm called Acorn Growth Companies. Another one of Acorn’s companies, Commuter Air Technology, is one of the key firms supporting the Tuskersand ISR operations, or its successor, run out of Uganda.
Three days ago Missy Ryan and Souad Mekhennet published an article in the Washington Post that details a March 2015 Tunisian/U.S. SOF operation that led to the death of nine militants linked to the terrorist attack at the Bardo National Museum 10 days earlier. Ryan and Mekhennet don’t mention ISR support for the mission, but the timing and location of the Pantelleria flights make clear that they were connected to this operation. The first known Pantelleria flight (March 21) took place just three days after the Bardo attack, which suggests one of two things: 1) a previously existing ISR program run out of Pantelleria operating over Tunisia and possibly Libya, or 2) a remarkable capacity possessed by flight contractors operating in conjunction with U.S. SOF in Africa to establish within days a new ISR operation over the continent.