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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Pentagon Drone Attacks Escalate in Somalia While AMISOM Plans Withdrawal

by Abayomi Azikiwe, originally published on Pan African News Wire, Jan 31, 2018

Trump administration creates conditions for further displacement and hunger

Somalia is facing yet another major crisis as the United States steps up its drone attack and combat operations in this Horn of Africa state.

Drone attacks are promoted by the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an effective means of targeting so-called “terrorists” without threatening the lives of innocent people and American soldiers. This of course is not always the situation on the ground.

The impact of drones on civilian populations has proven to be devastating. In most cases those killed, injured and dislocated are not the targeted individuals or groups. Civilians including women, children and the elderly tend to be the primary victims.

Nonetheless, news reports related to the worsening security situation around Mogadishu asserts that the aerial drone strikes are taking a toll on Al-Shabaab, the Islamist organization which is said to be the major impediment to the stabilization of the country. Al-Shabaab grew out of the interference of Washington in the internal affairs of Somalia after elements within the Union of Islamic Courts were recruited into the transitional federal regime nine years ago.

An alliance of contiguous and regional states under the rubric of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) was deployed to Somalia eleven years ago. At its height, AMISOM had 22,000 troops in Somalia along with several thousand para-military police units all backed, trained, funded and coordinated by the U.S., the European Union (EU) and their allies.

AMISOM has repeatedly said that Al-Shabaab is no longer a serious security threat in the capital of Mogadishu. However, periodic attacks are still occurring attributed to Al-Shabaab. A twin bomb attack during late 2017 was the most deadly since the deployment of AMISOM resulting in over 500 deaths, although it remains unclear whether Al-Shabaab was behind the operation.

Emphasis in recent weeks has been placed on praising the purported effectiveness of the drone bombings particularly coming from the AU special envoy to the country. Yet other issues which are surfacing are not being addressed along with the prospects of a withdrawal of AMISOM forces from the theater of battle.

AU representative Francisco Madeira said of the present situation that: “These drone attacks, in particular, are wiping out the Al-Shabaab in large numbers. And it is a good thing to put an end to terrorism in this way.”

Well the problems of “terrorism” in Somalia and throughout other geo-political regions such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Niger, has not been resolved to the satisfaction of imperialism through drone strikes. The spreading of destruction and displacement does not represent any long term solution for the Pentagon and NATO-allied forces or the majority of the people who live in these areas.

Fostering this dangerous illusion, Madeira went on to say: “The establishment of a comprehensive and effective Somali national army could take longer than expected.” In making such a statement it implies that the U.S. policy of escalating the bombing is the only viable response to the current political and security impasse.

In fact the western media has frequently lost track of the historical trajectory of events in Somalia over the last twelve years. It was in 2006 that the Union of Islamic Courts which was developing some semblance of stability in Somalia came under attack by U.S. proxies leading to the military intervention of Ethiopia and the eventual concoction and deployment of AMISOM.

Such a false scenario was published by the French Press Agency (AFP) on January 27 when the agency said:

“Deployed in 2007 to support the very fragile central Somali government, the AMISOM is expected to leave the country by the end of 2020, after transferring all its security prerogatives to the Somali army. But Francisco Madeira did not rule out an extension of the mission’s mandate.”

The question is what “fragile central government” was in existence in 2007? There had not been the pretense of an effective state authority in Somalia since 1991 when the government of former military leader and President Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed amid internecine conflict sweeping the entire country.

Displacement Fostered by U.S.-backed Government in Mogadishu

Another report published by the Guardian newspaper based in London portrays a more realistic picture of the actual developments in Somalia. The drone attacks, the utilization of Special Forces from the Pentagon and the constant misrepresentation of events inside the country are causing great harm to the Somalian people.

According to the publication: “

Dozens of civilians have been killed and wounded in Somalia as U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamist militants increase to unprecedented levels, a Guardian investigation has found, raising fears that Washington’s actions could bolster support for extremists. The escalation in strikes is part of the Trump administration’s broader foreign policy strategy in Africa and the Middle East. There have been 34 U.S. airstrikes in Somalia in the last six months – at least twice the total for the whole of 2016. Regional allies active in the campaign against Islamic extremists in the east African country have conducted many missions too. These appear to be the most lethal for civilians.”(Jan. 23 article by Jason Burke)

The impact of the increased militarization by the administration of President Donald Trump is being compounded by the forced removals of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the capital. Some 34,000 people have been cleared out of an IDP settlement in Mogadishu after the shelter was ordered torn down by the Washington-backed Somalia National Army (SNA).

Over a three week period from late December 2017 through mid-January 2018, some 3,000 shelters were destroyed. Such actions take on an added dimension of exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in Somalia. The U.S.-backed war has crippled the capacity of the people to address the horrendous food deficits caused in part by drought. The near-famine conditions will not be adequately resolved without the realization of peace. Enhanced militarization portends much for the future of the Somalian people who have endured four decades of war and occupation dating back to the late 1970s.

The Guardian notes in their report:

“The sudden increase in the use of air power in Somalia by the U.S. comes after the relaxation of guidelines intended to prevent civilian casualties and a decision by the Trump administration to give local military commanders greater authority in ordering attacks…. A Kenyan military spokesperson referred the Guardian to AMISOM when asked about Kenya’s operations in Somalia. Francisco Madeira, the head of AMISOM, said the force had ‘not been responsible for any airstrikes’ in … Somalia in 2017. A U.S. military spokesperson said its forces complied ‘with the law of armed conflict’ and took ‘all feasible precautions … to minimize civilian casualties and other collateral damage’.”

Another Large-scale Occupation May Be an Option

Perhaps the Trump administration is setting the stage for another failed large-scale military occupation which proved disastrous during 1992-1994. If the AMISOM project is being exhausted, the only other option is a U.S.-led intervention of greater magnitude.

There has been the reported death of a U.S. combatant last year in a mission which the administration says is strictly advisory. With Somalia being an oil-rich nation located in the strategic area close to vast energy resources throughout the East African coast and West Asia, the imperialists are not prepared to withdraw under a situation absent of a complete military defeat.

At any rate, the quagmire in Somalia cannot be settled without a regional political solution to the war between Al-Shabaab and the western-backed federal government in Mogadishu. The AU should focus its attention on a lasting solution rather than relying on the Trump administration which is only continuing the imperialist military options initiated by President George W. Bush, Jr. in 2006-2007 and its escalation under Barack Obama during his two terms from 2009-2016.

Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor of Pan African News Wire.