US military stops launching drones from Ethiopia, but can still fly from Djibouti or Seychelles

By 2014 US troops were carrying out almost two operations, exercises, or activities somewhere in Africa every day.

THE US military has stopped flying drones from the southern Ethiopian town of Arba Minch, which they had used since 2011, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Ethiopia said.

The two countries agreed that a US presence in Arba Minch isn’t needed at the moment, the spokesman, David Kennedy, said in an e-mail on Saturday.

Ethiopia borders Somalia, whose government is battling Al Qaeda-aligned Islamic militants Al-Shabaab with the support of the international community.

The US has led drone strikes in Somalia against Al-Shabaab since 2011, killing several of the organisation’s leaders. In one of the biggest setbacks for the militant group, Ahmed Abdi Godane, the most influential Emir of Al-Shabaab, was killed in a drone strike on September 1, 2014 in southern Somalia.

There was no other official explanation for the closure, but the base, which housed mostly MQ-9 Reaper drones, is located far inland in southeast Ethiopia and is much closer to South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya than it is to Somalia.

The US carries out drone operations from many locations in the Horn and Eastern Africa. 

READ: The ‘hippo trench’ across Africa: US military quietly builds giant security belt in middle of continent

Officially, the US has only one permanent base on the continent, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which provides a vital base for US Special Forces, fighter planes and helicopters, as well as serving as a base for drone operations into Somalia and Yemen, and maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean.

Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is currently undergoing a  $1.4billion upgrade, expanding everything from aircraft maintenance hangars, ammunition shelters, runway and taxiway extensions and accommodation facilities.

Since 2002, the camp has grown from 88 acres to nearly 500 acres, and in 2013, 22 projects were underway there, more than at any other US Navy base anywhere in the world.

In May 2014, the US reached an agreement— called an “implementing arrangement”—with the government of Djibouti “that secures [its] presence” in that country “through 2044,” meaning the US plans to be there for at least 30 more years.

The US also has numerous other “temporary” bases across the continent, including a drone port in the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles, off the eastern coast of Africa, although it is much further away than Arba Minch.

According to one count, in 2014, the combined total of all US Africa Command activities on the continent  reached 674. In other words, US troops were carrying out almost two operations, exercises, or activities—from drone strikes to counterinsurgency instruction, intelligence gathering to marksmanship training—somewhere in Africa every day.

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