U.S. officials have acknowledged they are sending drone aircraft from Ethiopia to conduct surveillance in Somalia, but say it has nothing to do with Kenya’s ongoing military operation there. Kenya has vowed to continue fighting until it has curtailed the activities of the Somali militant group al-Shabab.
U.S. military officials say they have begun launching drone aircraft over Somalia from a position in southern Ethiopia. Officials say the drones, piloted by remote control, are only for surveillance and not for airstrikes.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lieutenant Commander James Stockman, told VOA in an e-mailed statement that ‘there is no relationship between the aircraft operations in Ethiopia and the Kenyan operation in Somalia.” He said there are no U.S. military bases in Africa, except in Djibouti, and that a “limited number of personnel” are working on the Ethiopian program.
Washingtonpost.com reported on the this event: The Air Force confirmed Thursday that drone operations are underway at the Arba Minch airport. Master Sgt. James Fisher, a spokesman for the 17th Air Force, which oversees operations in Africa, said that an unspecified number of Air Force personnel are working at the Ethiopian airfield “to provide operation and technical support for our security assistance programs.”
The Arba Minch airport expansion is still in progress but the Air Force deployed the Reapers there earlier this year, Fisher said. He said the drone flights “will continue as long as the government of Ethiopia welcomes our cooperation on these varied security programs.”
Kenya sent troops into Somalia two weeks ago in pursuit of al-Shabab militants blamed for several kidnappings and attacks across the border in Kenya in recent months.
Asked in a Twitter conversation whether Kenya is receiving any intelligence from the U.S. drone program, Kenyan military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir replied, “Intelligence sharing between states happen[s] normally everyday, nothing has been enhanced from the normal.”
The Kenyan Army has given no timeframe for its military operation in Somalia, as troops push toward al-Shabab’s seaside stronghold of Kismayo.
“Kenya has no plans or intentions to stay in Somalia an hour beyond necessary,” said Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua. Once our objective is met as per the framework of AU and IGAD, Kenyan troops will withdraw and leave the security operations to AU troops and TFG troops.”
Air Force Shows Off the Reaper Unmanned Plane
While Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, has provided troops for the operation, so far, AU forces, known as AMISOM, have stuck to their peacekeeping mission in the capital Mogadishu.
AMISOM spokesman Paddy Akunda says there are currently no plans to provide support for Kenya’s mission.
“No we are not involved with the Kenyan incursion down south, we understand their security concerns. It’s a Kenyan affair. It’s between the Kenyan government and the TFG,” said Akunda.
Asked if AMISOM had any plans to join the Kenyan operation at a later point, Akunda said we will “cross that bridge when we get there.”