U.S. Drone and Surveillance Flight Bases in Africa Map and Photos

Just in case you thought there was nothing going on in Africa!

The following map and photos depict current and future locations used by the U.S. military for launching drones and surveillance flights throughout Central and North Africa. The map is not complete and reflects available information from open sources.  Similar to drone bases in Pakistan, a Washington Post article from 2012 quotes a senior U.S. commander as saying that most of the African air bases launching drones and surveillance flights are “small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports.” Several sites that are rumored to be used for launching drones and surveillance aircraft are not included in the map, including al-Wigh airbase in Libya which has been recently reported by news outlets in North Africa to be a base for French and U.S. operations in Mali.  All images are via Google Earth.

Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. Naval Expeditionary Base located at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, has functioned for several years as a “core of secret operations” in Africa and the Middle East.  Since at least 2009, the site has hosted armed drones flights targeting Somalia and Yemen.  A 2012 Washington Post article states that unmanned aircraft take off “about 16 times a day” from Camp Lemonnier.  According to the Post, the site is closely linked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), hosting at least 300 special operations personnel who “plan raids and coordinate drone flights from inside a high-security compound at Lemonnier that is dotted with satellite dishes and ringed by concertina wire . . . concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base.”  At least five Predator drones have crashed near Camp Lemonnier since January 2011 and a Special Operations Command U-28 surveillance plane crashed in February 2012 killing four Air Force Special Operations personnel.

Photo dated August 26, 2012.  Notice the construction of an adjacent taxi-way and support facilities.

Photo dated April 17, 2009.

Arba Minch Airport, Ethiopia

The U.S. Air Force verified in October 2011 that the Arba Minch Airport in Ethiopia hosts armed flights of MQ-9 Reapers over Somalia.  According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Air Force invested millions of dollars to upgrade the airport “where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs.” The drones are reportedly used in operations against Al-Shabaab.

Photo dated February 9, 2004.

Ouagadougou Airport, Burkina Faso

Described as a “key hub of the U.S. spying network” in Africa, Ouagadougou Airport is the home of a classified surveillance program code-named Sand Creek that includes “dozens of U.S. personnel and contractors” operating a “small air base on the military side of the international airport.”  From the airport, unarmed PC-12 airplanes fly surveillance mission in Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara.

Photo dated December 5, 2012.

Niamey, Niger

Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger has hosted PC-12 surveillance flights since 2012.  On February 22, 2013 President Obama sent a letter to Congress that approximately 100 troops would be sent to Niger to support “intelligence collection” and “facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region.”  The same day the AP published a story quoting two senior defense officials as saying that the troops, mostly U.S. Air Force logistics specialists, will be setting up a drone base in the capital of Niamey. The drones will reportedly be unarmed and used for surveillance. The location also currently hosts French activities in relation to Mali.
Photo dated December 13, 2012.

Nzara, South Sudan

In March 2012 U.S. Army General Carter F. Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the need for spreading intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts in “assist the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.”  According to the Washington Post, the airfield at Nzara is one of the locations intended as a future base for surveillance flights.  An article from April 2012 in the Post states that Nzara is a basing location for part of a contingent of U.S. troops searching for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.  Other locations where small camps of troops are located include Dungu, Congo and Obo and Djema in the Central African Republic.

Nzara airfield looking West. Photo dated August 19, 2004.

Entebbe, Uganda

Since at least 2009, the U.S. military has been using defense contractors to run surveillance flights in unmarked PC-12 aircraft from out of Uganda.  The flights are part of a secret project codenamed Tusker Sand that searches for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, processing imagery from over the airspace of Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. In August 2011, the U.S. government provided small unarmed drones to Uganda and Burundi.

The Ugandan military operates an airbase adjacent to the Entebbe International Airport that is reportedly used by the U.N. and foreign military forces. Photo dated July 2, 2011.

Manda Bay, Kenya

Though drone flights have not been confirmed to originate from Manda Bay, Kenya, past drone strikes in the region have raised suspicion that the base could be a launching point for armed drone flights into Somalia.  According to the Washington Post, the U.S. military has more than a hundred commandos stationed at a Kenyan naval facility at Manda Bay called Camp Simba and the U.S. Navy is currently spending several million dollars to upgrade the runway at the facility.  An unclassified 2008 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi released by WikiLeaks indicates that:

“The Government of Kenya has demonstrated outstanding support for U.S. and coalition operations in the Horn of Africa (HOA) region. They have allowed a continuous US DoD presence in Manda Bay that allows for training and combined operations in support of counter-terrorism operations and anti-piracy actions. They have maintained one of the only long-term access agreements that allows unparalleled cooperation for U.S. military aircraft, permits DoD personnel to enter and exit the country by simply presenting an ID card, provides a safe location for hub operations throughout the HOA region, and provides a Status of Forces Agreement that safeguards US DoD personnel. Kenya is among our strongest supporters in the region and a key friend in the regional war on terror.”

The Kenyan military has publicly denied that it hosts U.S. drones or surveillance flights.

Camp Simba.  Photo dated April 16, 2006.

Photo of the airfield looking West.  Photo dated April 16, 2006.

St. Victoria, Seychelles

Located on the island of Mahé, Seychelles the Seychelles International Airport has hosted U.S. drones since at least 2009.  Since December 2011, two MQ-9 Reapers have crashed at the airport.

Photo dated December 1, 2012.

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UNAC joins “Stopp Ramstein!” Protests

by Phil Wilayto,  originally published on End the Wars at Home and Abroad, July 1, 2018

It’s a beautiful evening here in Kaisaerslauten, a city of some 100,000 in southwestern Germany. There’s a light breeze blowing, gently nudging the thousands of multi-colored flowers that seem to line every street. Couples, young families and older folks are strolling through this city whose beginnings go back to the time of the Roman Empire.

And tomorrow. thousands of people are expected to gather here and attempt to block the entrance to the U.S. Ramstein Air Force Base. I’ll be one of them.

Ramstein is one of the largest of the Pentagon’s 800 military bases established in more than 70 countries. South Korea has the largest number (could this be why North Korea is a little suspicious of U.S, intentions?). Japan is number two, and Germany comes in third.

Ramstein serves as headquarters for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa and also NATO Allied Air Command. The military base is really huge, with some 54,000 military personnel, plus their families, which means this U.S. base pretty much dominates this German town. In fact, German officials and politicians are not allowed to enter the base without permission from the U.S. commander.

But, just like with the Navy in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the base is an important source of local employment, business contracts and trade, which is probably why the Catholic Church where around 40 protest organizers have been meeting this week came under heavy local pressure not to allow us to gather there. But the church stood its ground and there have been no problems – so far.

The reason the German peace movement has targeted Ramstein is not only because of its massive size, but because of the critical role it plays in the Pentagon’s strategy of fighting wars using pilotless drones. These expensive little machines can drop bombs on targets all over the world, with no threat to U.S. lives, and so no risk of stirring up unpleasant antiwar feelings back home.

It’s nice, clean warfare, in which the only people who die have brown skins. And if the intended target happens to be at a wedding, a funeral or praying in a mosque on Friday night, then there might be what the Pentagon quaintly calls “collateral damage” – a very sanitized word that seems obscene when applied to a lifeless child torn apart by a bomb we paid for with our taxes.

The drones do have human pilots, but they work in air-conditioned buildings back in the States. The pilots send instructions to Ramstein, where they are then routed to the many drone bases around the world. No Ramstein, no drones. And that is why there have been huge annual protests here.

When the base’s key role in drone warfare first came to light in 2015, the German government claimed it hadn’t been informed about this function of the U.S. base. The reports were later supported by data provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden and investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald from classified documents from inside the U.S. administration.

I’m here representing the United National Antiwar Coalition, which the Virginia Defenders helped found back in 2010. I’ve been meeting lots of German peace activists, as well as folks from Italy, Spain, South Korea, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and several from the U.S., including Ann Wright, the former U.S. Army colonel and State Department official now known worldwide for her antiwar activities. She’ll be a featured speaker at the main rally outside the base tomorrow.

Also here are Pat Elder, a longtime antiwar activist from Maryland who has done some incredible work countering military recruitment in our public schools. And Dave Webb from the United Kingdom, who works with the U.S.-based Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. And John Lannon, a professor at Ireland’s University of Limerick, who will be a key organizer of an international conference called to oppose U.S. and NATO foreign military bases that will take place this November in Dublin.

This week’s peace activities are being sponsored by the German organization “Stopp Air Base Ramstein.” Beginning on June 23, there have been discussions, workshops and a “peace camp” that reminds me of Occupy Richmond, with its many small tents and communal spirit. Today there was an all-day meeting at which Ann, Pat, John, Dave and I were among the many speakers. At the end of the meeting the organizers released a statement calling on the European Union to open all its borders to refugees, arguing that it has been the U.S. and NATO wars in North Africa and the Middle East that have caused the refugee crisis in the first place. The right-wing in Europe has seized on the refugee crisis to whip up hatred of immigrants, much like the Trump regime is doing in the U.S.

Tonight there’s a large public event held at the Reconciliation Church Kaiserslautern. And then the highlight of the week will be a large demonstration and rally tomorrow, followed by a mass blockade in front of the main entrance to the base, followed by a cultural event with a party in the peace camp. (See https://www.ramstein-kampagne.eu/…/stopp-airbase-rastein-2…/

So what am I doing her, thousands of miles from home, when I could be protesting any number of injustices back in Richmond? Well, it’s because all these things are related. Like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.” That saying is featured on the front page of the current issue of The Virginia Defender.

Today the U.S. is openly at war in at least seven countries in the Middle East and Africa: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya and Somalia. It’s conducting covert wars in other countries, from the Philippines in Asia to Mali and Niger in West Africa. It carries out provocative military exercises on the very borders of Russia. All this is in the name if “national security,” although there are no Russian bases in Canada, no Chinese ships off the coast of San Francisco, no joint North Korean-Mexican maneuvers in the Gulf of Mexico.

And man, are these wars expensive! The U.S. military budget is larger than that of the next seven or eight countries combined, and that includes both China and Russia. Military spending sucks up half our federal tax dollars. (They tell us it’s only 25 percent, but the Defense Department budget doesn’t include nuclear weapons, which come under the Department of Energy; or care for the hundreds of thousands of veterans, which comes under the Veterans Administration; or interest payments on the national debt – largely the result of borrowing money to pay for past wars. Those payments are now nearly equal to the Defense Department budget.

So when they tell you there’s no money to fix Richmond’s decaying public schools, no money for more bus routes, no money to create public jobs at living wages and that we’re running out of money for Social Security and Medicare, please remember where half your federal tax dollars are going. For war.

I’ll be on the road here in Europe for the next couple of weeks, trying to learn as much as I can about the progressive movement here and how activists are addressing poverty, racism and war. I’ll post my reports here as often as I can.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to help support this work, please think about kicking in a little something for travel expenses.

You can do this at: unacpeace.org.

Until next time,

Phil Wilayto
Editor, The Virginia Defender
Member, UNAC Administrative Committee