Some things never change. Camp Lemonnier was built for the French Foreign Legion to do the dirty work of empire. The legion consisted of misfits from France and also mercenary soldiers who could no longer serve their own nations. Africa was a treasure trove of resources that Europe feared would want to control its own destiny. The Legion was “outside the flowchart” in that they could be used for questionable purposes without the population protesting as much.

The Legionnaires were like pirates with a badge. The Legion’s job was to fight the “terrorists” of their day and to pacify occupied populations. “Terrorist,” of course, is a relative term. It can rightly mean someone who uses violence against civilians to send a political message, but since empires do that as a matter of course, the word has been limited to those who resist empire by nontraditional means.

To “pacify” a nation is code for ending its resistence to colonization, in other words, ending its claims for self-determination. After an empire has “pacified” local populations, those who continue the struggle are, by definition, “terrorists.”

Fast forwarding to the present, the U.S. is now using a camp formerly built by the French Foreign Legion as the hub of our drone attacks in Africa. While the President’s targeted killing program is top secret, the Washington Post has gathered a few details through the freedom of information act:

“Camp Lemonnier, is home to over 1,666 drone and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet flights per month, doubling that of two years ago, according to Defense Department contracting documents obtained by the Post.

“The drones and other military aircraft have crowded the skies over the Horn of Africa so much that the risk of an aviation disaster has soared,” the Post reports. Drone accidents have skyrocketed, including multiple software malfunctions that lead to nearly fatal crashes in residential areas of Djibouti. Last year, drones were involved in “a string of near mid-air collisions” with NATO planes off the Horn of Africa, according to a safety alert discovered by Post reporters.

“The base is also home to over 3,000 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors, including highly secretive “task force” special ops who plan raids and coordinate drone flights. “Most of the special ops commandos work incognito, concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base,” the Post reports. Personnel in the camp collectively refer to themselves as the “East Africa Air Pirates.”

At the time, I’m sure the French people were given romantic and principled reasons for why the Legion was being deployed, but today the legionnaires are simply remembered as mercenaries. They were killers for hire. One would have to assume that the only thing better than hired soldiers would be killer drones.  Drones  ask no questions, and since they don’t come back in body bags, the population doesn’t ask many questions either. They are the perfect legionnaires.

And, yes, you heard right. Our human mercenaries in Africa are calling themselves “pirates.”