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US building drone bases in East Africa

US counterterrorism efforts are ramping up with new bases in the Horn of Africa
Drone seychelles 2011 9 21Enlarge
The MQ Reaper, a "hunter-killer" drone, will be launched from the base in Seychelles to strike militant groups in East Africa. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The United States is spreading its drone war into East Africa.

The American military's use of drones to attack Al Qaeda and Taliban bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan is well known and controversial. The U.S. military finds the drone attacks an effective way to strike at enemy targets without putting actual pilots or soldiers in danger. But local residents charge that the drones often kill civilians instead of the militants that are targeted.

Now the drone wars are spilling over into the Horn of Africa.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is expanding the drone campaign to East Africa. The U.S. military is setting up a “constellation of secret drone bases” that will be used to aggressively target Al Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, the Washington Post reports.

One installation will be based in Ethiopia, already a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Somali militant group Al Shabab. The island nation of Seychelles is home to another U.S. military base focused on striking militants in Somalia.

The U.S. is expected to use the MQ Reaper, a "hunter-killer" drone the size of an airplane, will be launched from a base in the Indian Ocean islands of the Seychelles to strike militant groups in East Africa, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

U.S. officials hope the new drone installations will help thwart a possible growth of Al Qaeda in the region. The success of U.S. operations against the militant group in the Middle East and Central Asia worry some officials that Al Qaeda will move its base of operations to East Africa, according the to Post. Also important to the U.S. is keeping the momentum of its drive against Al Qaeda, after the death of Osama bin Laden.

But drones aren’t quite the new kid on the block in East Africa.

The U.S. began launching drones its military bases in Djibouti in 2001, according to Wired.

And Seychelles — about 920 miles east across the Indian Ocean from the southern tip of Somalia — previously had hosted surveillance-only drones for use in tracking down pirates in the region’s waters. That base was closed in the spring of this year after nearly two years of operation, but now has to capability to be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs, or “hunter-killer” drones for short, according to the Wall Street Journal.