Deadly US drone attacks in the Middle East and Northern Africa have greatly escalated in the past few years, thanks largely in part to a quickly expanding, yet remote, US base in the Horn of Africa, according to military documents obtained by the Washington Post.
Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti has operated as a central command for US attacks in the region for ten years, but in the past two years it has become the pinnacle centerpiece of drone operations in the region, "the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone," and a vehicle for the US's expanding war in the region.
A new Washington Post exposé on the base paints a telling picture of the increasingly deadly scenario.
"Taken together, the previously undisclosed documents show how the Djibouti-based drone wars sharply escalated early last year after eight Predators arrived at Lemonnier. The records also chronicle the Pentagon’s ambitious plan to further intensify drone operations here in the coming months," the Post reports.
Camp Lemonnier, is home to over 1,666 drone and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet flights per month, doubling that of two years ago, according to Defense Department contracting documents obtained by the Post.
In an Aug. 20 letter to Congress from Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, Carter explains that 16 drones and four fighter jets take off or land at the Djibouti airfield each day on average. Such flights are expected to increase.
The Defense Department delivered a master plan to Congress in August showing expansions of the base over the next quarter-century. Roughly $1.4 billion in construction projects are now planned, including a massive housing compound holding up to 1,100 Special Operations forces.
These documents "point to the central role played by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which President Obama has repeatedly relied on to execute the nation’s most sensitive counterterrorism missions," the Post reports, and represent the "clearest example" of how the United States via AFRICOM is "laying the groundwork to carry out these operations overseas," for years to come.
Dijibouti sits between Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula, and Somalia to its Southeast, two of the countries facing the most incessant US drone attacks as of late.
"The drones and other military aircraft have crowded the skies over the Horn of Africa so much that the risk of an aviation disaster has soared," the Post reports. Drone accidents have skyrocketed, including multiple software malfunctions that lead to nearly fatal crashes in residential areas of Djibouti. Last year, drones were involved in “a string of near mid-air collisions” with NATO planes off the Horn of Africa, according to a safety alert discovered by Post reporters.
The base is also home to over 3,000 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors, including highly secretive "task force" special ops who plan raids and coordinate drone flights. "Most of the special ops commandos work incognito, concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base," the Post reports. Personnel in the camp collectively refer to themselves as the "East Africa Air Pirates."
The remote-control drones, however, are flown via satellite by pilots at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.
The Post's exposé on the previously obscured destination comes as the last part on a three part investigative series, showing the Obama administration's ongoing development of a complex database now known as the “disposition matrix,” and a classified “playbook,” which maps out US drone strikes and targeted killing missions for the next decade.