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Mogadishu helicopter
      U.S. helicopter over Mogadishu, 10/3/93, just before
      loss in Black Hawk Down incident.  Predator
      drone warfare is designed to avoid these disasters.
On Friday, the administration announced, according to ABC News,  U.S. Confirms Predator Drones Flying Out of Ethiopia.  These drones, which are the new MQ-9 "Reaper" type, carry 15 times more armament than the prior model, yet, according to the administration, the ones being operated out of Ethiopia are unarmed.  

There was a curious structure to the White House statement:

White House spokesman Jay Carney said  the drones were operating from Ethiopia “as part of our partnership with the government of Ethiopia to promote stability in the Horn of Africa.”  He added, “The UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles] are not conducting any strike missions from Ethiopia. There are no U.S. military bases in Ethiopia. ”

Below the fold I discuss the obviously false claim that there are no U.S. military bases in Ethiopia and the implications that may have for U.S. policy and the so-called "global war on terror."

No U.S. bases in Ethiopia?
This claim, that there are no U.S. mililtary bases in Ethiopia, is the official position of the Ethiopian government, which, according to the Washington Post last Friday:

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.

“That’s the government’s position,” said Tesfaye Yilma, the head of public diplomacy for the embassy. “We don’t entertain foreign military bases in Ethi­o­pia.”

Oh, really?  Well, it seems that in the provincial town chosen for this non-base, Arba Minch, according to the Washington Post, "U.S. military personnel and contractors have become increasingly visible in recent months in Arba Minch, a city of about 70,000 people in southern Ethi­o­pia."

Ethiopia -- our new ally in the Global War on Terror (TM)
Let's hear more about our new partner, the government of Ethiopia.  From the most recent State Department Human Rights report on Ethiopia (April 2011), Human rights abuses reported during the year included, according the summary:

      Soviet-made armored vehicles disabled as
      result of fighting in Ethiopian capital, 1991.
     This concluded 1974-1991 civil war
     in Ethiopia which brought the present
       government to power.
* unlawful killings, torture, beating, and abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, especially special police and local militias, which took aggressive or violent action with evident impunity in numerous instances;
* poor prison conditions;
* arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of suspected sympathizers or members of opposition or insurgent groups;
* detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights, including illegal searches;
* use of excessive force by security services in counterinsurgency operations; restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press;
* arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists;
* restrictions on freedom of assembly and association;
* restrictions on freedom of movement;
* ruling party intimidation, threats, and violence during the elections;
* police, administrative, and judicial corruption; harassment of those who worked for human rights organizations; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation (FGM);
* exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes;
* trafficking in persons;
* societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities;
* forced labor and child labor; and
* government interference in union activities.

What's not to love?  According to the ABC article:

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. has “an intense partnership” with the Ethiopian military in training peacekeeping troops and counterterrorism assistance.  ”We are working together on a broad, sustained and integrated campaign to counter terrorism. And in doing so, we are harnessing all tools of American power. So obviously, the Ethiopians themselves don’t have these advanced drone aircraft that can provide intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, so we support their counterterrorism efforts with these aircraft.”

What does Ethiopia get out of this deal?
So, we are "supporting the counterterrorism efforts" of the Ethiopian government.  Well, let's see just what those might be.  From the State Department report:

In July 2009 the parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to address growing terrorist threats. Several human rights organizations raised concerns over the law's broad definition of terrorism, severe penalties, broad rules of evidence, and discretionary powers afforded police and security forces. Although a full prosecution under this law had not yet been conducted by year's end, several defendants were charged under it, including elderly citizens and students who staged public demonstrations in January in Oromia against gold mining interests they claimed were polluting their community's air and water.

Hmmm ... doesn't sound like much of a threat.  Maybe State Department mouthpiece Nuland meant "counterinsurgency", in which case we may get some whiff of the Ethiopian government's real concern from the State Department report:

     ONLF rebels, October 2006 (source)
Political parties were predominantly ethnically based, and opposition parties remained splintered. During the year fighting between government forces, including local militias, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an ethnically based, violent insurgent movement operating in the Somali region, resulted in continued allegations of human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict. Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities; however, there were instances in which security forces, specifically special police and local militias, acted independently of civilian control.

Behind all the words is this: The Ethiopian military pretends to be responsible to the civil government, but when it comes down to it, they kill whom they want, whenever they want, particularly in the Ogaden region.  Is it any wonder that the people whom they chose to kill have taken up arms against them?  This is an extremely complex situation which has been going on for over 25 years (see this 2008 report from Human Rights Watch for details, including the following:

The relations between the ONLF and militant Islamist groups such as al-Itihaad and al-Shabaab are unclear. Although the Ethiopian government routinely claims they are connected, there are credible reports that the ONLF and al-Shabaab clashed in Somali Region in late 2007. The ONLF has repeatedly sought to distance itself from some of the more militant Islamist groups operating in the region, particularly in the context of growing US and Ethiopian concerns over individuals and groups with alleged links to al Qaeda operating in neighboring Somalia.

       U.S. soldier training Ethiopian soldiers,
      11/20/2006.  U.S. alliance with Ethiopian
        regime goes back many years.
What is really going on?
So far, it seems that our government has not bought into the Ethiopian government's apparent constant effort to link the ONLF to al-Qaeda, as it appears that ONLF has not yet been placed on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.  

This is despite the 2007 ONLF attack on a Chinese-run oil exploration facility  which killed 74 people.  Normally such an incident would result in classification as a terror organization, but in this case, no.  

Hesitation as to any alliance with the Ethiopian government may well be the reason why ONLF is not listed as a terrorist organization and also why the drones operating in Ethiopia are not yet armed.  Should U.S. policy change however, it would be easy however to arm these drones at the substantial U.S. military base in Djibouti, and, as the Washington Post reported last Friday "the Pentagon said the drones are unarmed and have been used only for surveillance and collecting intelligence, though it would not rule out the possibility that they would be used to launch lethal strikes in the future."

So what then could be the point of operating out of a small town in Ethiopia when the U.S. has a fully adequate airbase in Djibouti, a small country right next door to both Ethiopia and Somalia.  Obviously the only reason for doing so would be to bring Ethiopian armed forces personnel into the surveillance operation, which might be difficult to accomplish in secret if they had to travel to Djibouti.  There may have also been perceived to be some diplomatic issues of conducting what amount to war operations (even with officially unarmed drones) over Ethiopia from Djibouti.

We have already seen from the Pakistani armed drone operation that it is essential to identify targets with local informants, which requires a presence on the ground of cooperating personnel, typically paid by CIA.  In essence, the "war on terror" as waged by drones, becomes analogous to a Mafia war.  This of course is realized by the targets of the drone attacks, which has lead, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan theater, to at least one ground-based suicide bomb attack (Camp Chapman, 12/30/09) on a drone targeting center.

What I think we are seeing here in Ethiopia is the setting up a similar network of funneling targeting information, gathered by the local government by who knows what means, into an armed predator drone campaign in the Horn of Africa.  Of course, one may ask, and I think with good reason, whether it's appropriate to make the bombing decisions based on information supplied by the Ethiopian government, and whether our association with that government will decrease or increase the number of our enemies.  

One other potentially troubling thought.  The remote location in Ethiopia was likely chosen, in part at least, to be secure from retaliatory counter attacks of the Camp Chapman variety.  

While this certainly makes sense from a military standpoint, it appears likely that the ultimate protection of the base will rest upon the Ethiopia Government's "anti-terrorism" operations, and we've already seen from the State Department's own reports how much abuse and violations of human rights these entail.  In setting up this base, aren't we leaving ourselves vulnerable for a charge of cooperating with this rancid regime's oppressions?


Is the government of Ethiopia an appropriate ally for the United States?

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| 17 votes | Vote | Results

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