Update on US Drone Base in Ethiopia

Last month, reports came out that the United States was building a new drone base in Ethiopia as part of a broader effort to strike targets in Somalia and Yemen. The base is already operational, and the BBC, the Washington Post, and other outlets are covering the story. As the BBC story points out, “the remotely-piloted drones [are] being used only for surveillance, and not for air strikes,” though the vehicles can be equipped with missiles and bombs if commanders choose.

Here’s an excerpt from the Post’s piece:

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. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighboring Somalia, where the United States and its allies in the region have been targeting al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda.


The Arba Minch airport expansion is still in progress but the Air Force deployed the Reapers there earlier this year, [Air Force spokesman Master Sgt. James] Fisher said. He said the drone flights “will continue as long as the government of Ethi­o­pia welcomes our cooperation on these varied security programs.”

Last month, the Ethio­pian Foreign Ministry denied the presence of U.S. drones in the country. On Thursday, a spokesman for the Ethio­pian embassy in Washington repeated that assertion.

The disconnect in rhetoric between the US military and the Ethiopian government points to the major tensions in this relationship. As I noted in my last piece, US officials said that it took years of effort to persuade Ethiopia to host the base. The lack of enthusiasm from Ethiopia’s side has persisted to the present. Ethiopia’s willingness to permit drone operations to continue may be contingent on what reactions occur in Somalia and inside Ethiopia, which is host to many ethnic Somalis and refugees from Somalia.


10 thoughts on “Update on US Drone Base in Ethiopia

  1. It actually is strange. Ignoring arguments about the U.S not investing enough in Africa* I would have thought that the Ethiopian and U.S governments would have agreed on what this would be described as. Maybe Ethiopia’s main concern is keeping poorly educated blocs uninformed, a lot like Mugabe blaming his problems on the West.

    *Which I have to wonder whether it’s simply not getting as much reporting.

    • The US has a well-earned reputation for strategic impatience and a tendency to cut and run when the going gets tough. Today, the US is all gung ho about confronting “terrorists”, by 2020 the US might well forget that Africa even exists.

      We’ve seen that movie in Afghanistan (1988 – 2001) and Africa (Clinton Administration).

      Zenawi has to deal with a Muslim population and a Somali minority. They are going to be part of Ethiopia as long as Ethiopia exists. Zenawi is not stupid – there is no point risking instability simply because the US wants a drone base.

      Anyway, I guess we are asking to much of the US. If the US couldn’t be bothered to know the difference between Sunni and Shia in Iraq, I bet they’ll have zero interest in the internal situation in Ethiopia.

      Cautionary tale: A century ago, the British came to Africa with the Maxim gun ( the “drone” of its day). They also wrongly believed that the Maxim gun excluded them from the need to understand the situation on ground – they learned the hard way.

      • If you recall, the British (and French and Germans and Belgians etc) stayed in Africa for a fairly long time*. As for Afghanistan, American policy for the most part was that it was Pakistan’s backyard. The world has nearly two hundred recognized states and we can’t focus on every single part of it on the slim chance that the next threat will emerge from that specific nation. We didn’t expect the Taliban to host Al Qaeda or for Pakistan (or at least parts of Pakistan) to foster militant groups even as those groups launch attacks in Pakistan itself.

        *Though I will admit that was partially due to the technology gap and different moral standards.

    • The Brits also spent a lot of time and effort to learn local language and customs. They also had an education system that emphasised the teaching of geography.

    • It would be more practical to launch them from ships in the Atlantic wouldn’t it? Mali is a long way from Ethiopia and the drone would need a place to land.

      • Things have been bad between the Tuareg and many local governments (with the exception of Qaddafi) for some time. I do have to admit some sympathy for them even as I have to remember that both sides aren’t quite pleasant company. Incidentally I’m willing to wager that in a few years (ten at most) the Tuareg could be the group that everyone’s writing a book about, much like the Kurds recently.

  2. Pingback: Tunesien will seine Flüchtlinge nicht zurücknehmen « kopten ohne grenzen

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