September 21, 2011
The Obama administration is constructing a network of drone strike bases in Africa and the Arabian peninsula as its broadening campaign against al-Qaida affiliates reaches increasingly into Yemen and Somalia.
A new bases will be constructed in Ethiopia, supplementing installations in the Seychelles and the tiny African nation of Djibouti, The Washington Post reported. Obama has already authorized drone strikes against Islamic militants in Yemen and Somalia, and the proliferation of bases in the region underscore the extent to which Yemen and Somalia, both highly volatile countries plagued by disintegrating civil order, have become new focal points for counterterrorism.
"It's a conscious recognition that those are the hot spots developing right now," a former senior U.S. military official told the Post.
Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks detailed how U.S. officials won permission from Seychelles President James Michel to maintain a small fleet of Reaper drones there. Both American and Seychellois officials have publicly maintained that the drones are unarmed and are used purely for counter-piracy surveillance, but a diplomatic cable reveals that American diplomats explicitly told Seychellois leaders that the Reapers would be used to bolster counter-terrorism efforts in Somalia.
Drone Use Increases
With the Obama administration expanding its use of targeted drone strikes and special operations raids in Yemen and Somalia, its legal team has become embroiled in a debate over how much authority the U.S. has to kill militants there. Current administration policy is to kill only "high-value" leaders, but there is discussion over whether rank-and-file militants can be targeted. Officials are also weighing the extent to which any given mission must be justified by an explicit threat to the United States, as opposed to an open-ended battle with Islamic militants.
"It's a tangled mess because the law is unsettled," Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the laws of war, told The New York Times. "Do the rules vary from location to location? Does the armed conflict exist only in the current combat zone, such as Afghanistan, or does it follow wherever participants may go? Who counts as a party to the conflict? There's a lot at stake in these debates."