Report: Secret drone bases being expanded

Sept. 21, 2011 at 1:00 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- The United States is widening its drone base in the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula to target al-Qaida affiliates in those regions, U.S. officials said.

The Washington Post, quoting the officials, said the Obama administration's counterterrorism campaign includes assembling such drone bases to go after al-Qaida in Somalia and Yemen.

The report said one such installation will be in Ethiopia, to fight the militant group al-Shabab that controls most of Somalia. At another base, in the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles, a small fleet of "hunter-killer" drones resumed operations this month to watch Somalia, the report said.

U.S. drones also have been sent from Djibouti to monitor Somalia and Yemen. The Post said the CIA is readying a drone airstrip on the Arabian Peninsula.

These steps come as al-Qaida affiliates become active in Yemen and Somalia, even as the terror group's core leadership in Pakistan continues to be punished by U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

Inclusion of places like Seychelles points to a U.S. campaign to broaden the range of its drone weapons. The Post report said the 85,000-population island nation has hosted a small fleet of MQ-9 Reaper drones operated by the U.S. Navy and Air Force -- officially, used primarily to track pirates in the region.

The Post said a U.S. military spokesman, citing security reasons, declined to say whether the MQ-9 Reapers in the Seychelles have ever been armed, but that they can be configured for both surveillance and striking targets.

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