U.S. to establish secret chain of drone bases
September 29, 2011
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Osama bin Laden might be dead but the United States is still looking for different ways to put an end to terrorism around the world.
“As long as we’re in that part of the world and hunting al-Qaida and the Taliban, the U.S. will seek them out wherever they are,” said Robert Duncan, visiting assistant professor of political science. “When we find them, we will eliminate them.”
This is the message that the U.S. government has been promoting since the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed in 2001. Recently, the U.S. has been using MQ-9 Reaper drones, a type of unmanned aircraft, to launch attacks against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
However, the government is starting to expand their efforts by setting up a series of secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to more easily target al-Qaida-linked groups in Somalia and Yemen, according to the Washington Post. This expansion represents increasing U.S. alarm over al-Qaida affiliates in those areas.
The U.S. had also been operating drone strikes out of bases in Pakistan until 2009, when the government forced American personnel out. One reason for the removal of U.S. forces was that the Pakistani military wanted to tone down the American presence on the ground because of a continued interference in their affairs, according to Al Jazeera.
“When the U.S. drone attacks intensified in the tribal areas, they caused growing anger in Pakistan,” said Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Islamabad. “The government was consequently put on the back foot.”
In addition to opposition from the government, the people of Pakistan are also against any American presence and military operations.
“The Pakistani people don’t like the United States messing around in their country,” added Duncan. “It’s their country, and we’re walking around like we own the place.”
As a result of the move from Pakistan, the U.S. has sought refuge for new bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean about 800 miles southeast of Somalia. In addition, the CIA established its own drone base in a classified location on the Arabian Peninsula, the Washington Post reported.
The Seychelles base was originally intended to track pirates off the coast of East Africa, but a recent WikiLeaks cable revealed that the drone fleet has also conducted counterterrorism missions over Somalia.
When the mission was announced two years ago, U.S. officials made an attempt to alleviate concerns from islanders, saying they had no plans to arm the Reapers. However the leaked cables show that U.S. officials were always planning to weaponize the drones, reports the Washington Post.
Seychellois officials expressed their concerns from the beginning that news of the drones being armed could get out to the public. However, officials made it clear that if the U.S. did intend to weaponize them, they would need approval from the Seychelles government.
“[The United States] need to be extremely careful in raising the issue with anyone in the government outside of the President,” said Jean-Paul Adam, who was Seychelles President James Michel’s chief deputy at the time. “Such a request would be politically extremely sensitive and would have to be handled with the utmost discreet care.”
Even though the government of Seychelles agreed to the American presence, some believe that they are being misinformed, which could be viewed as unfair to the government and to the people of the islands.
“The U.S. is not misinforming anyone,” Duncan said. “If the government wants their people to know what’s going on, that’s up to them. But it’s a secret operation and it ought to be kept that way.”