In its Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the United Nations said that it had received a growing number of reports of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying over Somalia.
“Several independent investigations have documented the deployment of US operated UAVs in Somalia, and other countries of the region, mostly for surveillance purposes. On at least two occasions, UAVs have reportedly been employed in targeted assassination of Al-Shabaab leaders and commanders during the course of the Monitoring Group mandate,” the report stated.
“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) routinely operate in Somali airspace. Although the United States Government has officially informed the Monitoring Group that it provided “a small number of Unmanned Aerial Systems to AMISOM”, AMISOM has expressed its concern about unidentified UAV operations in Mogadishu in an official letter sent to its main partners in February 2012,” the report said.
As the operation of UAVs is considered to be military in nature, “their importation to and use in Somalia therefore represents as potential violation of the arms embargo.”
“The Monitoring Group, based on confidential security reports and open source information, has counted 64 reports of activities of foreign jet fighters, helicopters and UAVs in Somalia from June 2011 to April 2012.” Some of these reports concern attacks mistakenly targeting an internally displaced people camp and a humanitarian feeding centre, targeted killings by drones of Al-Shabaab commanders, and Special Forces covert operations in Somalia.
“The Monitoring Group has also received report that the US government is operating for covert operations in Somalia a fleet of four unmarked Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant Mi-17 helicopters, based at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. These aircraft, although not equipped with any weaponry, are reportedly used to deploy US-Special forces from Djibouti to northeastern Somalia in support of the Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA).”
The reported highlighted several incidents involving UAVs. On August 19, 2011, an Associated Press reporter saw pieces of a surveillance drone that had crashed on a house in central Mogadishu, before being recovered by AMISOM soldiers. On November 13, 2011, a UAV matching the description of an RQ-11 Raven overflew Mogadishu, passing over the UNCC and UNSOA bulk fuel installations, representing a serious security threat to AMISOM, because of the risk of a crash into its main fuel depot. On January 9 this year, a Boeing 737 passenger jet, operated on behalf of AMISOM, almost collided with a UAV after departure from Mogadishu International Airport. Furthermore, on February 3, 2012, a US-manufactured drone crashed in Badbaado IDP camp in Mogadishu. The remains of the aircraft were quickly recovered by AMISOM and TFG security forces.
The Monitoring Group noted that most of the reported air strikes and military air operations in Southern Somalia were conducted by Northrop F-5E/5F “Tiger II” aircraft operated by the Kenyan Air Force, purchased from Jordan in November 2007. “Spokespersons of the Kenya Ministry of Defence have, in several cases, confirmed the involvement of the Kenyan Air Force in reported air strikes in southern Somalia. As Kenyan forces were not at the time operating on behalf of AMISOM the Monitoring Group deemed the aerial operations a violation of the arms embargo on Somalia.”
Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti have all conducted large scale military operations in Somalia without prior authorization from the United Nations. Djiboutian forces have since been ‘rehatted’ as AMISOM troops and Kenya formally merged its forces with AMISOM on 2 June 2012, allowing their forces to legitimately operate in the area.. However, the report noted that Ethiopia has announced that it does not intend to place its troops under AMISOM command, meaning that its operations in Somalia currently constitute a violation of the arms embargo.
In June the Washington Post article stated that the United States has established a dozen air bases in Africa since 2007, mainly for surveillance purposes. Most are small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports. Surveillance is overseen by US Special Operations forces but relies to a large extent on private military contractors and support from African troops. This allows these operations to fly below the radar. Using Pilatus PC-12 (U-28) surveillance aircraft rather than unmanned aerial vehicles also keeps the profile of these operations low.
Africa has emerged as a greater priority for the US government because terrorist groups there have become an increasing threat to US and regional security. The US is concerned about al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), insurgents in Mali, Boko Haram extremists in Nigeria and al Shabaab militia in Somalia. In central Africa, around 100 US special forces are assisting in the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The United States has launched air strikes in Somalia and Yemen using unmanned aerial vehicles, but has also deployed F-15E Strike Eagles to Djibouti. Some of the bases are in Ethiopia, the Seychelles, Burkina Faso and Uganda. Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, is the only permanent US base in Africa. About 2 000 US personnel are deployed there as part of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, many from the Army National Guard. MQ-9 Reapers have flown from bases in Ethiopia and the Seychelles – two Reapers crashed there in the past six months.
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