msnbc.com
updated 9/20/2011 10:17:40 PM ET 2011-09-21T02:17:40

The United States is assembling a series of secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to launch an aggressive campaign against al-Qaida-linked groups in Somalia and Yemen, the Washingon Post reported Tuesday night.

The Post said the new bases are in Ethiopia, the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and on the Arabian Peninsula. The military has also flown drones out of Djibouti, at the conjunction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

In addition to using armed drones in Yemen and Somalia, the U.S. government has used them in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Libya is the most recent country where the U.S. has used drones. Unarmed Predator drones flew surveillance missions to support the NATO mission against Moammar Gadhafi, officials have said.

The Post said the expansion of the drone program in the Arabian Peninsula reflected U.S. alarm over al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.

The United States began using drones launched from the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, to track pirates off Somalia in 2009. But diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks show that the unmanned aircraft has also been used for counterterrorism missions over Somalia, the Post reported.

The Post said that to get the Seychelles to agree to allow the original drone base, U.S. officials said they didn't plan to arm the drones. The cable show U.S. officials were thinking about just that.

The Post said it had been unable to get comment from U.S. or Seychelles officials on whether armed drones were being flown from the islands.

The last week, the top U.S. counterterror official, John Brennan laid out, what could be called the Osama bin Laden raid doctrine, in remarks at Harvard Law School. He said that under international law, the U.S. can protect itself with pre-emptive action against suspects the U.S. believes present an imminent threat, wherever they are.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government for more than 20 years and is in the grip of a desperate drought and famine. The U.N. says more than 3.2 million Somalis — nearly half the population — need food aid.

More than 450,000 Somalis live in famine zones controlled by Al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked militants who hold hold much of southern and central Somalia.

The al-Qaida branch in Yemen — al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — is one of the world's most dangerous. Its militants have staged or inspired a series of attacks on U.S. territory.

Yemen is in the middle of a virtual civil war with much at stake for the United States, its Gulf Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, and the West. Yemen overlooks key shipping lanes in the Red and Arabian seas, and already the chaos has allowed the al-Qaida militants to capture and hold a string of towns in nearly lawless southern Yemen.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Al-Qaida in Yemen largest terror threat?

  1. Closed captioning of: Al-Qaida in Yemen largest terror threat?

    >>> collaborating with allies in pakistan. the obama administration is reportedly considering escalating american operation ace cross the horn of africa and increasing the use of predator drones in a targeted killing program. jim miklaszewski joins us. why does al qaeda in yemen pose such a threat?

    >> while they remain the sort of spiritual leaders of al qaeda , the fact of the matter is they the successful u.s. operations there to some extent in terms of the cia predator drone strikes and increased activity by pakistani military and going after terrorists in the western part of that country have rendered al qaeda in pakistan pretty much nonoperational. so what's happening is the operational aspects of al qaeda have pretty much migrated to those cells there in yemen . after all, you remember, that the underwear christmas day bomber was dispatched from yemen . and the american imam al-alwaki continues to protest there in yemen . so it's clear to u.s. officials they have to consider a more aggressive approach to getting at the operation in yemen . that country hasn't had a viable, stable government that has control over the entire country for a number of years, therefore leaving an opening for al qaeda to, in fact, operate.

    >> thanks, mick.

Photos: Fleeing Somalia

loading photos...
  1. Yemeni coast guard ship navigates through Aden Harbor. More than 50,000 people - mostly Somalis - made the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden in smuggling boats to reach Yemen in 2008, according to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. At least 590 people drowned and another 359 were reported missing. The Yemeni coast guard is overwhelmed and underequipped to deal with Somali smugglers of refugees and illegal goods, as well as pirates along the long coast line. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A boat of newly arrived refugees reaches the Yemeni shore after being rescued by local fishermen while crossing the Gulf of Aden on Dec. 1, 2008. The man in the foreground was not as fortunate, he drowned after being thrown into the sea by ruthless smugglers the night before. Despite the risky journey, the number of Somali refugees arriving in Yemen in 2008 increased by 70 percent over 2007, according to the UNHCR. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A newly arrived refugee hydrates himself near the Yemeni town of Ahwar after crossing the Gulf of Aden on Dec. 1, 2008. The refugees, mostly from Somalia, risk their lives in the dangerous trip across the Gulf of Aden in order to flee war and extreme poverty at home. The refugees are given first aid, food, water and a complete medical examination by Doctors Without Borders when they reach the Yemeni shore. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Local fishermen rescue refugees clinging to a reef after crossing the Gulf of Aden and arriving near the town of Afwar, on the Yemeni coast. Despite the perilous gulf crossing, more Somalis are being driven to flee the chaos in their own country. Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991 and years of fighting between rival warlords has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fadua Ibrahim Haj Mohamed walks along the Yemeni beach she just reached after fleeing Ethiopia in search of her older sister on Dec. 1, 2008. She carried Riyadh Mukhter Sutlan, the 17-month-old son of her missing sister. After a lengthy and fearful search, the sisters were later reunited. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Yemen offers a favorable legal environment for Somalis - they are automatically recognized as refugees on the basis of a "prima facie" or "at first view" policy and have the right to work and move freely around the country. Still, Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and there is little economic opportunity for the new arrivals. After being given food, water and dry clothing, refugees cross dunes to go to a UNHCR refugee center near the Yemeni town of Ahwar. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Women who just landed on Yemen's shores are transported to a refugee center near the village of Bir Ali at the end of November 2008. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A refugee tries to regain his strength by eating a fortified biscuit at a UNHCR refugee center a day after suriving the dangerous sea crossing from Somalia. The UNHCR estimates that approximately 100,000 Somalis currently live in Yemen. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A nurse dispenses medicine to a newly arrived Somali refugee in Maifa, Yemen on Nov. 26, 2008. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A Somali refugee recuperates from her dangerous journey by hanging wet clothing out to dry at a refugee center on the Yemeni coast. By the end of April 2009, nearly 400 boats and 20,000 people had already arrived in Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden, according to the UNHCR. And at least 131 people died while making the desperate journey. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Yemen Coast Guard Pirate refugees Somalia
    Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures
    Above: Slideshow (10) Fleeing Somalia
  2. Image: Man prepares the grave of al-Hora during his funeral at a cemetery in Sanaa
    Suhaib Salem / Reuters
    Slideshow (14) Political unrest in Yemen - July
  3. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (39) Political unrest in Yemen - June
  4. Image: Anti-government protests in Yemen
    Wadia Mohammed / EPA
    Slideshow (59) Political unrest in Yemen - May
  5. Image:
    Hani Mohammed / AP
    Slideshow (25) Political unrest in Yemen - April
  6. Image: Tens of thousands of Yemenis take to the
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (67) Political unrest in Yemen - Earlier photos

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments