The US Pulls Out of Drone Base in Ethiopia
The United States is pulling out of drone operations in Ehtiopia, by mutual consent, according to Washington officials.
The US has been flying armed Reaper drones from southern Ethiopia on counterterrorism missions, as part of its war against Al-Qaeda affiliates Al-Shabaab in East Africa – primarily Somalia and Kenya.
US diplomats insisted the move was established by mutual consent, although some experts speculate the decision could be a result of bilateral differences that have emerged between the two nations.
Ethiopia maintains the removal of US drones is happening on the request of its government – something that could fuel speculation of a rift in US-Ethiopian relations. However, a government spokesman from the African nation also explained the project was only every intended to run on a short-term basis.
“This was done upon request by the Ethiopian government,” spokesman Getachew Reda told Reuters. “In the first place, this was a project with a limited timespan and both governments had long prepared themselves for this eventuality.”
The move has certainly surprised many, being labelled as “unexpected” by the Washinton Post. The US publication says its nation’s air force signed a $6.7 million contract with an Ethiopian tourist lodge just three months ago, which would have provided housing and office space for more than 100 personnel required to run drone operations at the base.
One explanation being offered up is that emerging threats elsewhere in Africa mean US drones are of more use in alternative locations. However, US policy so far has focused more on expanding its global drone presence, not redeploying existing ones. And, perhaps more to the point, Al-Shabaab’s presence in East Africa is largely focused in Somalia with outbreaks over the Kenyan border – both of which lie to the south of Ethiopia.
Regional expert and professor at George Mason University, Terrence Lyons, told Foreign Policy the base closure could signal a strained relationship between the countries.
“The US is having difficulties with its relationship with Ethiopia,” he said. “It could be that from the Ethiopian government side, being seen as one of the countries supporting drone bases killing Muslims in the region might have been problematic.”