(Kaleyesus Bekele – Ethiopian Reporter)
The United States Air Force (USAF) has shut down its drone base in Arba Minch town of the Southern Regional State that it has been using to fight the Islamist militant group based in Somalia, Al-Shabaab, for the past four years.
In 2009-2010 the US Air Force invested tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the Arba Minch Airport runway and built a small annex to house a fleet of drones called Reaper that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs. The air force deployed the drones in early 2011 and has been flying them on counter-terrorism missions as part of a US-led proxy war against the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab in war-torn Somalia.
The US drone base compound in Arba Minch is a little less than a quarter of a hectare in size and is surrounded by high fences, security screens and lights on extended poles. Arba Minch is located about 438 kilometers south of Addis Ababa and about 967 kilometers west of the Somali border.
The drones began flying missions in early 2011 over neighboring Somalia, where the United States and its allies in the region have been targeting Al-Shabaab.
Reliable sources told The Reporter that the US Air Force recently dismantled the Arba Minch drone base and redeployed its military personnel who have been working at the base. Sources said the drone clamshell-shape hangar has been removed and the US military personnel have packed and left the base.
The Embassy of the United States in Addis Ababa confirmed that there are no US military personnel in Arba Minch. In a written response to The Reporter, the public affairs officer and spokesperson of the embassy, David Kennedy, stated that US military personnel are no longer in Arba Minch.
“In our ongoing bilateral discussions on our defense cooperation, we reached a mutual decision that our presence in Arba Minch is not required at this time. As we work with our African partners, our mutual needs change over time and a determination was made that our use of facilities in Arba Minch is no longer necessary,” Kennedy said in an email response.
He said that the US presence in Arba Minch was never meant to be permanent.
Ethiopia is a longtime US ally in the fight against terrorism, the militant group that has fomented instability in war-torn Somalia and launched attacks in Kenya, Uganda and elsewhere in the region.
Ethiopian defense forces first invaded Somalia in 2006 and rooted out the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the predecessor of Al-Shabaab, from the capital, Mogadishu. Later on members of the ICU regrouped themselves and formed Al Shabaab. With a series of military operations, the Ethiopian defense force – along with the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) – managed to weaken the militant group. The US government provides military aid to Ethiopia. Last year the US Air Force donated a C130 Hercules military transport plane to the Ethiopian Air Force.
Source: Ethiopian Reporter