By Jim Kouri
The United States is expanding its use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, in order to conduct counterterrorism missions in Ethiopia, according to U.S. intelligence sources.
Ethiopia is one of the African nations plagued by the al-Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab, which is caring on a full scale war against Somalia’s government forces and African Union troops sent into Somalia to assist in counterterrorism operations.
As a result of Ethiopia’s close proximity to Somalia, terrorists from Al Shabaab have entered that country and kidnapped victims who are held for ransom and sometimes murdered.
According to a U.S. intelligence source, the Air Force deployed men to work at the Ethiopian airfield to provide operation and technical support for U.S. security assistance programs.
The drones will continue counterterrorism flights as long as Ethiopia desires U.S. military assistance.
The drone base is located at the Arba Minch airport, east of the Somali border, within reach of standard models of the Reaper.
The Law Enforcement Examiner last month complained about the Washington Post using leaked information to report that the United States is building a series of secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of counterterrorism efforts targeting al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Somalia (Al Shabaab) and Yemen (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP).
But that WaPo story didn’t mention the Ethiopian base and that it became operational this year.
The report came at a time when the United States has been expanding the use of drones on counterterrorism missions, and has increasingly targeted al-Qaeda’s affiliates outside South Asia, particularly in Yemen and Somalia.
The Department of Defense’s use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) continues to increase rapidly. In 2000, DOD components had fewer than 50 unmanned aircraft in their inventory. By May 2008, they had more than 6,000.
However, DOD faces challenges, such as UAS acquisition and the integration of UAS into joint combat operations. Over the past several years, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the military services have undertaken several initiatives to improve the management of UAS programs and the operational use of these systems.
Specifically, DOD has established new entities and refocused the mission of an existing organization. DOD has also initiated several studies to determine UAS needs and help inform future UAS acquisition decisions.
In addition, DOD issued the Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032 (Roadmap), which it characterizes as a comprehensive plan for the evolution and transition of unmanned systems technology, including UAS. Also, in select cases the military services are developing and fielding common UAS programs and proceeding to develop more common concepts of operations.