"According to current and former American government officials, as well as classified government cables made public by the group WikiLeaks, in recent years the military has set up a constellation of small bases in Africa for aerial surveillance missions flown by turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft. One of the principal bases used for the missions in Mali is in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, according to one former official and the government cables.
But the surveillance missions in northern Mali have had only a limited effect. Islamist leaders have cracked down on some electronic communications and been careful not to reveal pieces of sensitive information that could be monitored, like their exact positions.
General Ham said that it had been very difficult to get consistent, reliable intelligence about what he called a militant “safe haven” in Mali.
“It’s tough to penetrate,” he said. “It’s tough to get access for platforms that can collect. It’s an extraordinarily tough environment for human intelligence, not just ours but the neighboring countries as well.”