October 19, 2012

Pin The CIA Base On the Map

Yesterday The Washington Post excited or disturbed a wide population of various individuals by announcing the CIA's request for additional unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Pentagon-approved plans are in the final stages of being submitted to the White House, where the proposal will be evaluated by counterterrorism chief John Brennan and a group of national security officials. If approved by President Barack Obama, the CIA's drone fleet is expected to rise from 35 to 45 and increase the range of its entire assassination/surveillance operations. The CIA currently supplements its forces by employing weapons systems from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). A boost in its capabilities is aimed at retaining the CIA's autonomy; the CIA relies on military pilots to operate from the U.S. and reportedly chafes at using JSOC airstrips.

This latest move that has unnerved some Pentagon departments, if their own staff is to be believed, except none of them could be as stressed as those inhabiting a drone's flight path.

The Washington Post only breaks small pieces of "new" information, and even then no aspect is surprising. Drones are scheduled to increase the ranks of all branches that fly them, especially covert divisions, and CIA officials speak as though their shipment is late. The Department of Defense naturally wants to clarify their terms, but has no overriding reason to stop a process that cannot be stopped. Brennan then acts a buffer for all parties in the White House. Most surprising would be a veto from the drone-slinging President.

What's unnerving to foreign populations are the requirements of UASs and their collateral damage. A drone's range is grimly impressive for its machinery - up go 1,000 miles - but it needs a network to support its operations. Drones fly out of multiple points in Afghanistan, having been evicted from Pakistan, while a grid of drone bases has been constructed over the Horn of Africa to target al-Qaeda and its affiliated militants. Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and the Seychelles all host their own bases, controlled by either the CIA or JSOC, and Yemen just received its own during a popular revolution. Many of these cases illustrate the hegemonic threat that drones bring to their area of operations. In Yemen, the CIA had already began construction under Ali Abdullah Saleh's secret approval when the revolution struck, and the White House accelerated its building schedule from two years to eight months in response.

This decision was attributed to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) growth in southern and eastern Yemen, a predictable that did come true. However the corrupt Saleh himself was largely responsible for watering AQAP and his duplicitous approval of U.S. air strikes fertilized the soil. More virus than cure, U.S. policy would have gone in a vicious circle with Yemen's tribes had Saleh survived the revolution's first phase. Washington happily accepted his vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and turned over the base's secrecy to him - one of many reasons why Washington and Riyadh orchestrated Hadi's ascendency.

Yemenis themselves were never told anything or allowed any input, despite the fact that they suffer most when a drone misses. Even then civilian casualties are denied - forget compensation - and the mere presence unnerves adults and children alike. The entire project is thoroughly totalitarian.

As The Washington Post reports, "Any move to expand the reach of the CIA’s fleet of armed drones probably would require the agency to establish additional secret bases." This "need" entails more secret handshakes with autocratic, unrepresentative and unreliable governments. The new wave of bases will hit northern Africa hardest, possibly starting with Algeria as a launch point into Libya and Mali. Algiers runs a notoriously anti-interference policy to tamp down its cooperation with foreign powers (Washington), and may eventually consent in a similar fashion as Ethiopia's government. The two governments have already assembled a chain of bases in the Sahel and a new agreement would ensure no problems in the event that pro-democracy demonstrations flair up, as they periodically do.

Friendlier lands could be found in Nigeria, one of world's the most pro-American states, and neighboring Niger. Mauritania or even Mali itself could play host to a base as part of NATO and ECOWAS's intervention, which includes a robust training mission and the need for Western support bases.

The populations of these nations will be lucky to receive an advanced warning of their new guests.

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