So, the U.S. has opened up a new drone base in Africa to aid in the hunt for terror suspects in places like Somalia.
Apparently, the Air Force has built a miltimillion dollar facility to host MQ-9 Reaper drones at a tiny airstrip in Arba Minch, Ethiopia. The Washington Post is reporting that the facility was built to help hunt for al Qaeda affiliate, al Shabab, in East Africa and that the base’s MQ-9s have already been used over Somalia.
However, the base is located far inland in southeast Ethiopia and is much closer to South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya than it is to Somalia. Who is operating in South Sudan, Uganda and other central African nations? Those 100 or so “combat equipped” U.S. troops who are helping the Ugandan military hunt down the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army — a “rebel” group that has terrorized the civilian population of central Africa for decades.
The still-under-construction base has been operational for months now with a staff of American airmen supporting the unarmed (for now) Reapers flying ISR missions, the Air Force told the Post.
This is the first I’ve heard of a U.S. base so far inside Africa. We’ve got Camp Lemonier in Djibouti that serves as the hub of operations against terrorists in the Horn of Africa — especially in Somalia and across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen– and we’re reportedly building a handful of additional drone airfields in the Horn of Africa. We also fly drones from the Seychelles (as shown in the pic above) and ships off the Somali coast. Keep in mind that U.S. operators routinely visit African nations throughout the Sahara desert region to train and assist local militaries in their fight against al Qaeda in the Maghreb. Still, I haven’t heard of any permanent U.S. bases in these nations.
Here’s the post’s description of the Ethiopian facility:
Travelers who have passed through the Arba Minch airport on the occasional civilian flights that land there said the U.S. military has erected a small compound on the tarmac, next to the terminal.
The compound is about half an acre in size and is surrounded by high fences, security screens and lights on extended poles. The U.S. military personnel and contractors eat at a cafe in the passenger terminal, where they are served American-style food, according to travelers who have been there.
These events are an expansion (at least publicly, such ops may have been going on for years without being announced) of the Pentagon’s low-profile operations in Africa. Plenty of people have asking; why are we now publicly announcing that U.S. troops are chasing the LRA and that we’re building airfields in Africa after years of Pentagon being very wary of too much publicity for its African ops? Could the Pentagon’s interests in Africa have grown beyond simply fighting Islamic terrorists to fighting destabilizing insurgencies across the continent? Or maybe these moves are meant to check increased Chinese influence on the continent? This is pure speculation, there could be a ton of answers to this question. Sound off in the comments.