Terror-Fighting Drone Fleet Moved Amid Crash Fears

Wednesday, 25 Sep 2013 02:29 PM

By Andrea Billups

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Drones that monitor the movements of al-Shabab fighters have had to be moved from their African base because locals fear they might crash into aircrafts.

A large fleet of drones from a crucial counterterrorism hub has been moved to a makeshift airstrip after residents of the impoverished region feared the unmanned military aircraft might collide with passenger planes over populated areas.

The Air Force moved the drones from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti after fears from officials in the east African nation who cited previous accidents in recent years for their fears, The Washington Post reported.

The drones have been launched from runways used by civilian aircraft and have used local aircraft control, in contrast to military operations conducted from war zones in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Djibouti borders Somalia, the base for al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked group behind this week's Nairobi shopping mall massacre.

However, the military says the move, which is temporary, hasn't impacted its ability to continue drone strikes in the region. It remains unclear whether the move has pushed forces to cut back on drone flights and surveillance of camps housing al-Shabab members, the Post reported.

The drone concerns raise new questions about whether the U.S. aircraft may be hosted in Djibouti long-term or whether the military may be forced to seek an alternative site, correspondence between the Defense Department and Congress revealed.

The Pentagon had hoped to invest more than $1billion in Camp Lemonnier in support of the increasingly unstable region, which includes the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. More than $225 million of that figure included plans to build a compound for 700 military personnel from the Joint Special Operations Command, described as a highly secret operation, the Post said.

Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion outpost, was established by the US. Military in 2001. It is a U.S. Naval Expeditionary Base, located at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport and serves as a hub for U.S. Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.

The Economist called the camp "The most important base for drone operations outside the war zone of Afghanistan." Drone attacks are launched there on suspected terrorist areas of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.


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