Warplanes: Robots Are Scary

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October 17, 2013: The U.S. has agreed to move its UAV operations in Djibouti (northeast Africa) away from the main French/American military base next to the international airport outside the capital. The UAVs will now operate from another airstrip far away from the capital. This is to prevent any accidents involving the American UAVs (mainly 1.1 ton Predators and 4.6 ton Reapers) shutting down Djibouti’s main airport, which is nearby. There have been 5 accidents involving these UAVs in the last 2 years and Djibouti officials fear it’s only a matter of time before an airliner or transport using the international airport collides with 1 of the UAVs. The Americans pointed out that this has never happened, but it seemed the most diplomatic thing to do was just move the UAVs to another airstrip, 10 kilometers from the current one, that the French and Americans were already using. The move will cost the United States about $13 million.

There is 1 official U.S. military base in Africa, the one in Djibouti. France and the United States SOCOM (Special Operations Command) have had special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) stationed in Camp Lemonnier, which is next to the main airport outside the capital. Djibouti is next to northern Somalia France and has had commandos there for over a decade, and the U.S. moved in after September 11, 2001. But you don't hear much about this corner of the War on Terror, despite the numerous terror groups in the region (especially Yemen and Somalia). Why is that? Well, it's complicated.

France has been building up their special operations capability in Djibouti since 2006, in anticipation of problems in Eritrea and Somalia, both of which are involved in disputes with Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)-Djibouti railroad is pretty lucrative for Djibouti and France because it is Ethiopia's main outlet to the sea, and fighting between Ethiopia and either of its neighbors could create problems there. American Special Forces in Djibouti have a base near the main French one. It's pretty easy to spot on Google Earth. Less easy to spot is the fact that France and SOCOM also have access to one or more Ethiopian air bases. American UAVs operate from Ethiopia and Djibouti, while U-28s SOCOM air transports are seen in many other airports in the region. The UAVs are sometimes armed with missiles. Some of these armed UAVs are believed to have also operated out of Yemen air bases. When not attacking al Qaeda targets in Yemen, these UAVs are sometimes seen across the water in Somalia.

U.S. forces in Djibouti were increased after resistance collapsed in Iraq in 2008. Now there is even a small, and unofficial, CIA base in Mogadishu, the traditional capital of Somalia. The CIA, and similar outfits from other nations, also work from Djibouti. But most of the effort is directed at monitoring what is going on in the region (mainly Somalia and Yemen but also Eritrea, Kenya, and Ethiopia) not at interfering with the local terrorists. Not much, anyway. The Djibouti base also supports operations throughout the Sahel (the semi-desert strip between the North African desert and the Central African jungles, which stretches from the Atlantic to Somalia).

 

 


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