US Robo-War Opens New Drone Base in Africa

October 4th, 2011 - by admin

Greg Miller / The Washington Post – 2011-10-04 02:55:18

Awlaki Is First Hit for New Drone Base
Greg Miller / The Washington Post

(September 30, 2011) — Friday’s lethal strike on Anwar al-Aulaqi was carried out by a CIA drone operating from a new agency base on the Arabian peninsula, US officials said. It marks the first time that the CIA has launched a drone strike in Yemen since 2002, and the first indication that the new base is operational.

The Obama administration has dramatically expanded the US drone campaign against al-Qaeda over the past two years but, until recently, the CIA did not have easy access to targets in Yemen. The nation is home to an increasingly important affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, often called AQAP.

The Post has withheld details on the specific location of the new drone base at the request of the Obama administration, but the base was intended to improve the ability to hit targets in Yemen, including Aulaqi, US officials have said.

The military, under the Joint Special Operations Command, has patrolled the airspace over Yemen with its own drones for much of the past year. Those aircraft are flown out of a base in Djibouti. The military has also operated drones out a base on the Seychelles and is establishing an airstrip in Ethi¬o¬pia.

In addition to Aulaqi, a second US citizen, Samir Khan, 25, a propagandist who helped produce Inspire magazine, was killed in the drone strike Friday.

For more on the development of the US drone campaign against targets on the Arabian Peninsula, please see the following story.

US Assembling Secret Drone Bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Officials Say
Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller / The Washington Post

(September 20, 2011) — The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, US officials said.

One of the installations is being established in Ethiopia, a US ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country. Another base is in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of “hunter-killer” drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somalia from there.

The US military also has flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from bases in Djibouti, a tiny African nation at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. In addition, the CIA is building a secret airstrip in the Arabian Peninsula so it can deploy armed drones over Yemen.

The rapid expansion of the undeclared drone wars is a reflection of the growing alarm with which US officials view the activities of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia, even as al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan has been weakened by US counterterrorism operations.

The US government is known to have used drones to carry out lethal attacks in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The negotiations that preceded the establishment of the base in the Republic of Seychelles illustrate the efforts the United States is making to broaden the range of its drone weapons.

The island nation of 85,000 people has hosted a small fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones operated by the US Navy and Air Force since September 2009. US and Seychellois officials have previously acknowledged the drones’ presence but have said that their primary mission was to track pirates in regional waters. But classified US diplomatic cables show that the unmanned aircraft have also conducted counterterrorism missions over Somalia, about 800 miles to the northwest.

The cables, obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, reveal that US officials asked leaders in the Seychelles to keep the counterterrorism missions secret. The Reapers are described by the military as “hunter-killer” drones because they can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs.

To allay concerns among islanders, US officials said they had no plans to arm the Reapers when the mission was announced two years ago. The cables show, however, that US officials were thinking about weaponizing the drones.

During a meeting with Seychelles President James Michel on Sept. 18, 2009, American diplomats said the US government “would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions . . . to gain approval” to arm the Reapers “should the desire to do so ever arise,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting. Michel concurred, but asked US officials to approach him exclusively for permission “and not anyone else” in his government, the cable reported.

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