More secret bases. More and better unmanned warplanes. More frequent and deadly robotic attacks. Some five years after a U.S. Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flew the type’s first mission over lawless Somalia, the shadowy American-led drone campaign in the Horn of Africa is targeting Islamic militants more ruthlessly than ever.
Thanks to media accounts, indirect official statements, fragmentary crash reports and one complaint by a U.N. monitoring group, we can finally begin to define — however vaguely — the scope and scale of the secret African drone war.
The details that follow are in part conjecture, albeit informed conjecture. They outline of just one of America’s ongoing shadow wars — and one possible model for the future U.S. way of war. Along with the counterterrorism campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines, the Somalia drone war demonstrates how high-tech U.S. forces can inflict major damage on America’s enemies at relatively low cost … and without most U.S. citizens having any idea it’s even happening.
Since 2007, Predator drones and the larger, more powerful Reapers — reinforced by Ravens and Scan Eagle UAVs and Fire Scout robot helicopters plus a small number of huge, high-flying Global Hawks — have hunted Somali jihadists on scores of occasions. It’s part of a broader campaign of jet bombing runs, naval gun bombardment, cruise-missile attacks, raids by Special Operations Forces and assistance to regional armies such as Uganda’s.
In all, air raids by manned and unmanned U.S. aircraft have killed at least 112 Somali militants, according to a count by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Fifty-seven innocent civilians also died in the raids, the nonprofit Bureau found. The dead jihadists have included several senior members of al-Qaeda or the affiliated al-Shabaab extremist group. In January, a drone launched three Hellfire missiles at a convoy near Mogadishu and killed Bilaal al-Barjawi, the mastermind of the 2010 bombing in Kampala, Uganda, that claimed the lives of 74 soccer fans.
In an escalating secret war, drones are doing an ever-greater proportion of the American fighting.