The US Africa Command, AFRICOM, is beginning to put together a US military base in the Seychelles.

US to Base Drones in Seychelles to Fight Piracy

The United States is planning to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles in the Seychelles islands in the coming weeks …
Dozens of American military and civilian personnel will also be based at the airport to oversee the Navy-led mission for the next several months.

MAHE ISLAND, Seychelles - Members of the U.S. Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 3, show Seychelles Coast Guard divers how to conduct underwater searches during an exercise at the coast guard base on Mahe Island, Seychelles, August 5, 2009. Members of the EODMU-3 are currently deployed to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Trina Jeanjacques)

MAHE ISLAND, Seychelles - Members of the U.S. Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 3, show Seychelles Coast Guard divers how to conduct underwater searches during an exercise at the coast guard base on Mahe Island, Seychelles, August 5, 2009. Members of the EODMU-3 are currently deployed to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Trina Jeanjacques

SEYCHELLES - Seychelles President James Michel (right) shakes hands with General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa command, during Ward's visit to the island nation in August 2009. Michel and Ward engaged in discussions on security-related issues, including the strengthening of U.S. surveillance in collaboration with the Seychelles government to fight against piracy. (Photo courtesy of Seychelles, Office of the President)

SEYCHELLES - Seychelles President James Michel (right) shakes hands with General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa command, during Ward's visit to the island nation in August 2009. Michel and Ward engaged in discussions on security-related issues, including the strengthening of U.S. surveillance in collaboration with the Seychelles government to fight against piracy. (Photo courtesy of Seychelles, Office of the President)

In addition to the Reaper UAVs, the U.S. military is also considering basing Navy P-3 Orion patrol aircraft in the Seychelles for a limited time. Like the Reaper, the Orion can survey a large region and help deter attacks.

As you can see from the picture above, the U.S. Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 3 are doing training in the Seychelles. So it looks like they may be preparing for dives looking for explosive ordnance at some point. So far there is no indication Somali pirates have sunk any explosive ordinance, although US military contractors may have done so in Lake Victoria.

The leadership of the Seychelles seem pleased with the US presence.
US Navy steps up Seychelles piracy protection

The president of the Republic of Seychelles, James Michel, has hailed this week’s discussions with General William E. Ward, commander of US Africa Command(AFRICOM), as “extremely warm and fruitful.”
President James Michel has welcomed the announcement by the United States of America of its intention to operate surveillance assets, to include P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles in Seychelles.
The announcement follows in depth high-level discussions between the two countries on means of strengthening the security situation in the region, which builds on recently ratified provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement by the Seychelles National Assembly

“This new venture is both a concrete step in the fight against piracy and a symbol of the trust and understanding which exists between the governments of the Republic of Seychelles and the United States of America. We look forward to continually strengthening this partnership based on our mutual desire for peace and stability in the region,” the President stated following the meeting

A Status of Forces Agreement is one necessary preliminary for any basing activity. You can see the warm and fruitful meeting of General Ward and President Michel in the picture above.

A recent Ecoterra International SMCM update makes the point that the Seychelles are:

… a key transshipment point for poached tuna from the Indian Ocean to Japan.

Although much of the piracy in Somali waters is illegal and unregulated fishing, the international navies gathered in Somali waters seem disinclined to do anything to prevent this particularly profitable form of piracy.

From the Stars and Stripes: U.S. plans land-based UAV patrols to combat piracy

About 75 U.S. military personnel and civilians will be headed to the Seychelles islands in the coming weeks to set up the Reaper operations, which could start in October or November. U.S. Africa Command is calling the Navy-led mission Ocean Look.

The mission should last several months, with a Reaper airborne at all times, Crawley said. Details on exactly how long the UAVs would be in the Seychelles are still being worked out, he said.

The UAVs would not be armed.

“We will get it up and running and see for a few months if it is the right assets and location (for counterpiracy). It is a very strategic location

It is a very strategic location for a lot more than counterpiracy, which looks a bit like an afterthought in that sentence.

From the Seychelles Nation on August 12,

US surveillance plane visits Seychelles
As part of US support for Seychelles against piracy and other security threats, a P-3 Orion aircraft of the United States Africa Command arrives in Seychelles today.

The visit of this military plane is said by the US embassy in Port Louis, Mauritius, to be a further sign of the ongoing partnership between the people of the US and of Seychelles.

The P-3 Orion, a four-engine turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft, has been the US Navy’s frontline, land-based maritime patrol aircraft since the 1960s.

Originally designed as a long-range, anti-submarine warfare patrol plane, the P-3C’s mission has evolved since the late 1990s to include surveillance either at sea or over land, where its long range and long loiter time have proved invaluable assets.

The P-3C has advanced submarine detection sensors such as directional frequency and ranging sonobuoys, and magnetic anomaly detection equipment.

The avionics system is integrated by a general purpose digital computer that supports all the tactical displays and monitors, automatically launches weapons and provides flight information to the pilots. The system also coordinates navigation information and accepts sensor data input for tactical display and storage.

This looks like the US is looking for a lot more than just Somalis in surface boats.
h/t to b real’s africa comments, August and September 2009 for much of this research.

And an IMG Press reports AFRICOM pitched their tents TO SEYCHELLES It reports much of the same information as above, but adds something about the money involved (via google translator Italian to English):

The U.S. military presence was requested by local government after the attacks of pirates against ships at sea, some among the islands. Last April, the President of Seychelles, James Michel, had interrupted an official visit to Japan after two national units had been seized off the Comoros islands. A few days later, the cruise ship MSC Melody “, en route from Durban (South Africa) to Genoa with over 1,000 passengers and 550 crew members, was approached by a pirate boat but was readily detected and blocked by a Spanish frigate. “Such incidents – said President Michel – are dangerous not only because they are acts of terrorism, but because it might push the cruise ship out of our territorial waters and seriously wounding the national tourism.”

The dependence of the country from foreign currency is total. Unable to think of any form of development or at least self-centered to a diversification of sources of economic input to the government authorities the defense of luxury tourism becomes vital, at the cost of accelerating the transfer of islands and islets to individuals and give way for the U.S. militarization of the archipelago. Already a year before the crisis linked to Somali pirates, the employment rate of the hotel industry had suffered a decline of 60-65 percent. In favor of the Seychelles is the International Monetary Fund intervened with an emergency loan, while the Paris Club has canceled 45% of a debt of 215 million.

An anti-pirates, the Seychelles have equipped their coastguards two modern fast boats. They also asked a number of countries to transfer their military units in defense of territorial waters. The legislative authority has already approved a pact of “military cooperation” with the U.S. military, while the Department of Defense has allocated $ 300,000 for the country in the 2008-2010 period of the training program “IMET International Military Educations and Training “. Military advisers and specialists of “Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA)”, the U.S. joint forces unit stationed in Djibouti, working alongside the local military since 2005. In May 2009, the men of Africom Command in Stuttgart have held a weekly cycle of conferences and meetings with local military and civilian authorities in view of “improving procedures for air traffic control” and a “strengthening of bilateral for security and intelligence and reduce criminal activity in the Indian Ocean. ” The next month, in the main ports of the Seychelles have made a long stop operating naval units of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, the multinational force set by the command of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain to patrol the waters of the Indian and Gulf of Aden. Alongside the military boats in the Seychelles work well for some time a ship of the Indian Navy helicopter carrier, armed with guns “Bofors” 40 mm .. Sixty French marines are aboard a dozen large vessels for tuna fishing in the waters of Seychelles that will remain until the end of October.

I think this provides a clue as to why the Seychelles allowed, and may have invited a US base. They need the money badly. Tourism has collapsed, probably due to the global economy as much or more than piracy. Supposedly this US military activity is only a temporary arrangement. But the base at Djibouti was supposed to be temporary, but is now digging in for permanent residence. And I wonder if the French marines may be protecting the tuna pirates.

Right now nobody is calling it a base, rather a temporary agreement. But it is clear that what is going on is preliminary to setting up more activities and more infrastructure. The Seychelles needs the income, and the US wants a base in that strategic location, and is putting up the money. But the US is not without competition, as b real points out:

… , the Seychelles archipelago is a valuable geostrategic Indian Ocean asset in the eyes of all the big players on global stage. China and India are currently wooing its government. Neocons and kin are worried about China challenging U.S. naval dominance & superpower status by utilizing this “”unsinkable aircraft carrier” in its line of communications w/ Africa:

Taking into account the fact that the Republic of Seychelles 110 Islands are scattered over a wide surface of the Western Indian Ocean, which includes a vital oil route and taking into account that important oil producing Nations are within rocket striking distance, the geo-political importance of Seychelles cannot be under-estimated.

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For more on drones over Africa see: Political Assassin Robots Flying In African Skies

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