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As the United States expands its military presence in and around Africa, opening two new bases and reactivating another, it has become obvious that the drone wars against terrorists in Yemen and Somalia are just heating up....
With six known drone attacks against Yemen radicals since 2010 and two more against Somalian radicals, not including under-the-radar and non-drone attacks, it is no secret that the U.S. military is not backing down from the fight.
Washington is quietly setting up at least two new East African drone bases, plus one on the Arabian Peninsula, to support the expanding U.S. shadow war against Islamic militants in Somalia and Yemen. An apparently new facility has been built in Ethiopia. In the island nation of Seychelles, a defunct airfield is being reactivated. A third base is being set up in or near Yemen.
The news, first reported by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, should come as no surprise to close observers of America’s shadow war on the borders of the Indian Ocean. But the base expansion could be met with outrage by the people most directly affected, especially Africans themselves. For years, Washington has insisted that it wouldn’t build new bases in Africa.
The U.S. 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 cables, obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, reveal that U.S. 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, U.S. officials said they had no plans to arm the Reapers when the mission was announced two years ago. The cables show, however, that U.S. officials were thinking about weaponizing the drones.
About 20 percent of CIA analysts are now “targeters” scanning data for individuals to recruit, arrest or place in the crosshairs of a drone. The skill is in such demand that the CIA made targeting a designated career track five years ago, meaning analysts can collect raises and promotions without having to leave the targeting field.
Critics, including some in the U.S. intelligence community, contend that the CIA’s embrace of “kinetic” operations, as they are known, has diverted the agency from its traditional espionage mission and undermined its ability to make sense of global developments such as the Arab Spring.
Human rights groups go further, saying the CIA now functions as a military force beyond the accountability that the United States has historically demanded of its armed services. The CIA doesn’t officially acknowledge the drone program, let alone provide public explanation about who shoots and who dies, and by what rules.