Government contractors will be hired to fly older Predator drones on as many as 10 flights a day, none of them strike missions.
Air Force crews fly 60 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols, where one CAP means keeping one aircraft in the air around the clock. The Pentagon wants to push that towards 90 by 2019. With Air Force drone crews worn out by wartime operations, military leaders are turning to the Army, U.S. Special Operations Command — and the defense industry. General Atomics has begun flying surveillance missions for the Pentagon, although they could not disclose the location or mission details. The high tempo of operations, particularly in Iraq and Syria, have drone pilots reporting stress, fatigue, and associated issues. In June, Air Force is losing its operators faster than it can mint them: “The service trains about 180 such pilots a year, but needs about 300 of them and loses about 240 due to attrition.” Earlier this year, officials said the Air Force wants to add 200 Predator and Reaper pilots to the 1,000 it currently has. Private military contractors “often lack the oversight and accountability we demand of military professionals” some say.
Based out of a fortress of fading green Hesco barriers at the ramshackle airport in Kismayo, a team of special operators from the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite U.S. military organization famous for killing Osama bin Laden, flies drones and carries out other counterterrorism activities, multiple Somali government and African Union sources have confirmed.
[January 26 2014 Sahal Isku Dhuuq killed by U.S. drone in Somalia]
The U.S. military conducted an airstrike in southern Somalia on January 26 against a suspected militant leader.
The target was described by the official as a “senior leader” affiliated with al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia.
The United States has not yet been able to determine whether the target was killed. The attack carried out by a US drone in southern Somalia; according to Abu Mohamed, a commander of the country’s al-Shabab group, the attack took place in a village called Hawai in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle [Lower Shabele, Somalia] region on Sunday.
He said that Sahal Iskudhuq, [Sahal Isku Dhuuq] a commander with close link to al-Shabab’s top leader, was killed when his car was hit by a missile fired from the drone.
[December 11 2011]
The US has lost a PQ-9 Predator, which crashed while landing at the airport of Mahe, principal island of the Seychelles archipelago, where an air base has been prepared since 2009 where UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, remote-controlled unmanned aircraft) are also deployed to fight against Somali piracy. At the small, one-runway airport in Victoria, MQ-9s, used to monitor piracy activities in and around the Indian Ocean, don’t carry weapons, though they have the capability to do so. During a meeting with Seychelles President James Michel on Sept. 18, 2009, American diplomats said the U.S. government “would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions . . . to gain approval” to arm the Reapers “should the desire to do so ever arise,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting. Michel concurred, but asked U.S. officials to approach him exclusively for permission “and not anyone else” in his government, the cable reported. Michel’s chief deputy told a U.S. diplomat on a separate occasion that the Seychelles president “was not philosophically against” arming the drones, according to another cable. But the deputy urged the Americans “to be extremely careful in raising the issue with anyone in the Government outside of the President. Such a request would be ‘politically extremely sensitive’ and would have to be handled with ‘the utmost discreet care.’ ”
A U.S. military spokesman declined to say whether the Reapers in the Seychelles have ever been armed. Because of operational security concerns, I can’t get into specifics,” said Lt. Cmdr. James D. Stockman, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees the base in the Seychelles. He noted, however, that the MQ-9 Reapers “can be configured for both surveillance and strike.”
A spokeswoman for Michel said the president was unavailable for comment.
Jean-Paul Adam, who was Michel’s chief deputy in 2009 and now serves as minister of foreign affairs, said U.S. officials had not asked for permission to equip the drones with missiles or bombs.
“The operation of the drones in Seychelles for the purposes of counter-piracy surveillance and other related activities has always been unarmed, and the U.S. government has never asked us for them to be armed,” Adam said in an e-mail. “This was agreed between the two governments at the first deployment and the situation has not changed.”
The State Department cables show that U.S. officials were sensitive to perceptions that the drones might be armed, noting that they “do have equipment that could appear to the public as being weapons.”
To dispel potential concerns, they held a “media day” for about 30 journalists and Seychellois officials at the small, one-runway airport in Victoria, the capital, in November 2009. One of the Reapers was parked on the tarmac.
“The government of Seychelles invited us here to fight against piracy, and that is its mission,” Craig White, a U.S. diplomat, said during the event. “However, these aircraft have a great deal of capabilities and could be used for other missions.”
In fact, U.S. officials had already outlined other purposes for the drones in a classified mission review with Michel and Adam. Saying that the U.S. government “desires to be completely transparent,” the American diplomats informed the Seychellois leaders that the Reapers would also fly over Somalia “to support ongoing counter-terrorism efforts,” though not “direct attacks,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting.
U.S. officials “stressed the sensitive nature of this counter-terrorism mission and that this not be released outside of the highest . . . channels,” the cable stated. “The President wholeheartedly concurred with that request, noting that such issues could be politically sensitive for him as well.”
The Seychelles drone operation has a relatively small footprint. Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport, it includes between three and four Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.