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.