US setting up secret drone bases in Africa, Indian Ocean

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

WASHINGTON: Spurred by runaway success of drones in Afghanistan, US is setting up an array of secret killer unmanned spy plane bases in Africa, Middle East and Indian Ocean to chase al-Qaeda targets and confront pirates.

The move comes as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and top US military officials have predicted that remnants of the al-Qaeda may be planning to shift bases out of the South Asia following unprecedented American pressure which has already led to the killing of their top leader Osama bin Laden in May.

Fleets of ‘hunter-killers’ drones – capable of firing hellfire missiles and satellite guided bombs – have already been based on the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles and in Ethiopia to form a ring round Yemen and Somalia, The Washington Post reported.

“The rapid expansion of the undeclared drone wars is a reflection of the growing alarm with which US officials view the activities of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia, even as al-Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan has been weakened by US counter-terrorism operations,” it said.

Another installation is being established in Ethiopia, a US ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country, the paper said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the US has used the Seychelles base for flying surveillance drones, and for the first time will fly armed MQ-9 Reapers from the Indian Ocean site, supplementing strikes from a US drone base in Djibouti.

“US officials say they are concerned that al-Qaeda, under pressure from US operations in Pakistan, is moving to expand operations through its affiliates in East Africa, and that a new charismatic militant leader could emerge there,” The Journal reported. -PTI

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