Somalia is a counterterrorism planner`s dream.

“We’ve moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles … to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.”

… there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy.


Predator MQ-9 Reaper

These predator drones are now being deployed over East Africa and the adjacent waters, based by the US in the Seychelles. At present we are told the drones are unarmed, and are part of anti-piracy surveillance. But that is only the toe in the door. The CIA uses these drones for extrajudicial killings in Pakistan, a country that is supposedly a US friend, and with whom the US is not at war. In Pakistan the CIA is probably assassinating some genuine international terrorists. It may also be assassinating innocent individuals, or local political leaders. The CIA appears accountable to no one in the US or the world at large for these actions. In all cases these are assassinations.

The CIA and the US Africa Command now appear ready to expand this predation in East Africa, most likely in order to continue efforts to destabilize Somalia (called stability operations). The US has been pushing the notion that Islamist fighters in Somalia are allied with al-Qaeda. There is no real evidence for this, see the commentary about halfway+ down this page, in response to a comment. But since it is repeated over and over in the US media, many people believe it. Just as the New York Times pushed the bogus story of weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war, it is pushing the supposed link between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab.

From the:

UNITED NATIONS: US drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan could be breaking international laws against summary executions, the UN’s top investigator of such crimes said. “My concern is that drones/Predators are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” he [UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston] said.

“The onus is really on the United States government to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary extrajudicial executions aren’t in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons,” he added.

… you have the really problematic bottom line that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws,” Alston said.

Since August 2008, around 70 strikes by unmanned aircraft have killed close to 600 people in northwestern Pakistan.

“I would like to know the legal basis upon which the United States is operating, in other words… who is running the program, what accountability mechanisms are in place in relation to that,” Alston said.

“Secondly, what precautions the United States is taking to ensure that these weapons are used strictly for purposes consistent with international humanitarian law.

“Third, what sort of review mechanism is there to evaluate when these weapons have been used? Those are the issues I’d like to see addressed,” the UN official said.

b real provides more research in his africa comments, where you can read in more detail the information from the following sources:

AP: US drones protecting ships from Somali pirates

Military officials said Friday the drones would not immediately be fitted with weaponry, but they did not rule out doing so in the future.

Analysts said they expected the Reapers would also be used to hunt al-Qaida and other Islamist militants in Somalia. While Moeller said the aircraft would “primarily” be used against pirates, he acknowledged they could also be used for other missions.

“The long-term solution to the piracy issue is basically [us] getting the conditions right in Somalia,” he said.

More information about the Reaper here: MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV

… the [Reaper] aircraft can carry up to 14 Hellfire missiles, compared with two carried on the Predator. The Reaper can stay airborne for up to 14 hours fully loaded.

Trading off some of the missiles, Predator B can carry laser guided bombs, such as the GBU-12. MQ-9 is equipped with both Lynx II SAR and the MTS-B 20″ gimbal, an improved, extended range version of the MQ-9’s EO payload. The availability of high performance sensors and large capacity of precision guided weapons enable the new Predator to operate as an efficient “Hunter-Killer” platform, seeking and engaging targets at high probability of success.

The Wikipedia entry adds:

Then U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley said, “We’ve moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.”

The New York Times adds its voice to the war machine fear mongering: In Somalia, a New Template for Fighting Terrorism. The NYT starts with the popular but unsubstantiated assertion that: “Al-Qaeda is working feverishly to turn Somalia into a global jihad factory”.

So a new template for fighting terrorism may be emerging as the United States shows less desire to get involved in the local intricacies of nation building and more interest in narrowing its focus to Al Qaeda. …

To Mr. Nagl, in fact, Somalia is a counterterrorism planner`s dream, with its desert terrain, low population density and skinny shape along the sea; no place is more than a few minutes` chopper flight from American ships bobbing offshore. “It`s far, far harder to do counterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Somalia,” he said.

And from an abstract of Jane Mayer’s article in the October 26th issue of The New Yorker: The Risks of the CIA’s Predator Drones: The Predator War:

Hina Shamsi, a human-rights lawyer at the New York University School of Law … said of the Predator program, “These are targeted international killings by the state.”

The Predator program, as it happens, also uses private contractors for a variety of tasks, including “flying” the drones.

According to a new study by the New America Foundation, the number of drone strikes has gone up dramatically since Obama became President. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the defense contractor that manufactures the Predator and its more heavily armed sibling, the Reaper, can barely keep up with the government’s demand.

there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy.

Somalia will make a convenient African practice field for targeted killings by robot assassins. There is no government to stand up for the Somali people in this, especially as the United States claims to be the one standing up for Somalia. As Mr. Nagi said above, Somalia is a counterterrorism planners dream. As long as Somalia is kept destabilized, aka stability operations, it will be an easy target.

Somalia is just the beginning, it may have oil, but it looks like there is a lot more oil in the African great lakes region, beginning with the recent finds in Uganda. Southern Sudan has oil and is the site of US corporate and international land grabs. The DRC has vast quantities of minerals including 80% of the world’s coltan. Its mineral resources are considered a US strategic interest. That is why the US helped overthrow Lumumba and installed Mobutu, dismissing Mobutu’s 30 years of failed government as an African problem. For US purposes, Mobutu was a success, he was a faithful client. When he was no longer useful, the US helped overthrow him.

The term terrorist is evolving to mean anyone who questions or stands up to the US in its quest to coopt and control oil, minerals, and other natural resources, or who stands up to the forces of global capitalism. A “terrorist” is a political or economic opponent, only a few of them have violent intentions towards the US.

A robot assassin looks like just the tool to eliminate an obstructive political opponent. It appears risk free and cost free to the US. Few outside the neighborhood will care about the collateral damage, the many innocent civilians killed at the same time. The term terrorist is necessary to give political assassination a figleaf of legality.

From africa comments:

… US targeted killings of Al Qaeda terrorists is a legal act of self defense under international law. (You can get a free pdf download, here, at SSRN, “Targeted Killing in US Counterterrorism and Law.

… US law and regulation contains a ban on “assassination.” Assassination in that specific legal sense is prohibited – but also not defined in US law or regulation. However, successive administrations dating from the 1980s have taken the position – e.g., the speech in 1989 to which the article refers – that a targeted killing is not (prohibited) “assassination” if it meets the requirements for self-defense under international law, including self defense against terrorists.

The Reaper may be a perfect tool for global capitalism to assassinate and decapitate any growing movements and civil society groups with economic or democratic aspirations. Jeremy Keenan reminds us that an estimated 55% of the world population are left out of global capitalism, neither producers or consumers. Many of these live in Africa. If these people continue to be marginalized, the profits and benefits will continue and increase for the elites controlling their resources now. So the elites have strong incentives to prevent and crush democratic movements.

Jeremy Keenan describes this use of the war on terror and the reason for the Africa Command in: Demystifying Africa’s Security:

[The] Bush administration decided to use a military structure to secure access to and control over African oil and opted to use the GWOT as the justification, rather than acknowledging that US military intervention in Africa was about resource control.

emphasizing the threat posed by the marginalised and excluded, Africa’s ‘dangerous classes’, and the role of aid and ‘development’ … merging the development and security agendas so that the two have become almost indistinguishable

The securitisation of Africa has been further promoted by drawing attention to the association between underdevelopment and conflict and the various discourses on ‘failed states’, which, in no time at all, were linked directly to the 9/11 attacks. It took only a few steps – from ‘poverty’ and ‘underdevelopment’ to ‘conflict’, ‘fear’, ‘failed states’ and the black holes of the ‘ungoverned areas’ – to recast Africa as the ‘Heart of Darkness’ and to transpose the GWOT into its vast ungoverned spaces: the DRC, Sudan, Somalia and EUCOM’s infamous ‘swamp of terror’, the Sahara.

Far from bringing ‘peace and security’ to Africa, AFRICOM is directly instrumental in creating conflict and insecurity.

Social scientists unfamiliar with the new ‘security development’ discourse may find its emphasis on ‘security’ and ‘development’ seductive. What more does Africa need? However, as Abrahamsen (2005) has already pointed out, London and Washington have used this discourse to link Africa’s underdevelopment with the threat of terrorism. And the regimes of Africa have followed suit: many are now using the pretext of the GWOT to repress legitimate opposition by linking it with ‘terrorism’. … Above all, the ‘security-development’ discourse explicitly links Africa’s poor, her ‘dangerous classes’ as Abrahamsen calls them, the marginalised and excluded to international security ‘problems’ and ‘terrorism’.

And so the war on terror becomes the war on the poor and marginalized, the “dangerous” classes. Keenan gives us a number of examples of countries in Africa where this is already happening. If the US is using the Reaper to kill, and is not engaged in open war with a country, it is using the Reaper as a tool of political assassination, killing opposing leaders and their families to control the economy and the politics.

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.

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