U.S. flying surveillance drones from Ethiopia air base (corrected)

Laura Rozen

Correction: This post was updated at 5:00PM to refer to the Washington Post report. It previously mistakenly cited from an older New York Times report on expanding U.S. counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaida targets in the Horn of Africa, from Ethiopia.

The United States is using an airfield in Ethiopia to fly Reaper drones to conduct surveillance over Somalia, the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock reported Friday.

"The Air Force has been secretly flying Reaper drones on counter-terrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethi­o­pia as part of a rapidly expanding U.S.-led proxy war against an al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, U.S. military officials said," Whitlock wrote.

"The Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in Arba Minch, Ethi­o­pia, where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs," Whitlock's report continued.

U.S. officials said Friday the drones flying out of Ethiopia are only conducting surveillance, not performing armed strikes on targets in Somalia. The comments may reflect Ethiopian sensitivities over exposure of the issue.

Ethiopia has previously denied U.S drones were operating from the country, Whitlock's report noted.

U.S. counter-terrorism officials have been increasingly concerned about al-Qaida affiliates expanding their reach in unstable parts of Africa, including in famine-ridden southern Somalia, much of which is under the control of the al-Qaida-linked Islamist militia al-Shabab.

The Nation magazine's Jeremy Scahill reported in July on CIA counter-terrorism operations in Somalia.

The New York Times also previously reported on extensive clandestine U.S. counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaida-linked targets in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, in close cooperation with Ethiopia. Those operations reportedly included the deployment of a Pentagon special operations unit, Task Force 88, operating on the ground in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as the 2007 deployment of AC-130 gunships to conduct air strikes on Somali Islamist militant targets, that were flown out of an air strip in eastern Ethiopia.

"I work on, and sometimes in Somalia, so I have seen what is going on there and not much has changed in the past five years," an American humanitarian expert on the region told Yahoo News on condition of anonymity Friday regarding the reports.

However, the U.S. government confirmation of the U.S. drone base in Ethiopia is at least a public "expansion .... of the Pentagon's low-profile operations in Africa," DefenseTech notes. "Plenty of people have [been] asking; why are we now publicly announcing that U.S. troops are chasing the [Lords' Resistance Army] and that we're building airfields in Africa after years of Pentagon being very wary of too much publicity for its African ops? Could the Pentagon's interests in Africa have grown beyond simply fighting Islamic terrorists to fighting destabilizing insurgencies across the continent? Or maybe these moves are meant to check increased Chinese influence on the continent?"

Other Yahoo! News stories:

Who is the al-Qaida emissary to Somalia?
Obama White House escalates war on "leading from behind"
Iraq vet has fractured skull from 'police projectile' at Occupy Oakland: report
John Huntsman talks to Yahoo News about the tea party, the polls--and his hair
Shipwreck off Japan thought to be 13th century Kublai Khan "lost fleet"

Want more of our best national security stories? Visit The Envoy or connect with us on Facebook and on Twitter.