The US military is expanding its footprint across the African continent, with a secret drone base revealed in a remote Djibouti airstrip, the whistleblower website The Intercept reported.
According to an internal 2013 Pentagon study obtained by the website, a secret unit known as Task Force 48-4 conducted covert drone operations in the region. Headquartered at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the unit operated from outposts in Kenya and Yemen.
According to The Intercept, Camp Lemonnier has played a key role for US military’s drone operations in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
However, after numerous crashes and mishaps in September 2013, drone operations were moved from the base to the remote Chabelley Airfield.
Chabelley is not on the list of US overseas bases and the Pentagon refuses to publicly acknowledge its existence. However, according to Google Earth images, the base is operational, the author concluded.
According to the article, Chabelley now likely conducts intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities and counterterrorism strikes in Somalia and Yemen.
The base provides a landing and takeoff point for US drones operating to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, parts of Ethiopia, and southern Egypt. It is also used as an airfield for French and Japanese military aircraft and civilian planes.
According to The Intercept, the key role of the base for US military’s long-term operations in the regions is proved by the fact that last year the US signed a lease on the land until 2044, with over $70 million per year in rent.
According to the report obtained by the website, there were 10 MQ-1 Predator drones and four MQ-9 Reapers at Camp Lemonnier in June 2012. By August 2012, an average of 16 drones and four jet fighters were taking off and landing at the base each day.
As for the US military capabilities in Africa, investigations have estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 US troops were on the ground as of 2014, and at least 14 drone bases across the continent.