Contemporary Colonialism: The Permanent US Drone War Base in Djibouti

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at Camp Lemonnier in Dec. 2011 (photo: US Department of Defense)

The Washington Post has published a third story in its series on the Obama administration’s institutionalization of its targeted killing program. This story highlights Camp Lemmonier, the United States military base in Djibouti where drones land or take off around sixteen times a day, and is reportedly the first time the US military has confirmed publicly drones are present at this base.

Written by Craig Whitlock, the story reports this base has become the main combat hub for “the Obama administration’s counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa and Middle East.” Drones either head for “the collapsed state” of Somalia, which is just 10 miles southeast, or “north across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, another unstable country where they are being used in an increasingly deadly war with an al Qaeda franchise.”

The Predator drones being flown are prone to accidents. In a few cases, they have even become sentient.

In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the “brains” of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem.

“After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely,” an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. “Right now, I still think the software is not good.”

“All told, about 3,200 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors are assigned to the camp,” according to The Post. Foreign militaries are trained, intelligence is gathered and humanitarian aid to East Africa to hopefully combat extremism is handed out. And, this information is not known because, suddenly, the Obama administration has chosen to be transparent in its operations.

As has been typical of the Obama administration’s national security operations, Whitlock writes, “The Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the legal and operational details of its targeted-killing program.”

A Post reporter had to show up uninvited to talk to officers and receive answers to general queries about the camp. According to Whitlock, “The U.S. military rejected requests from The Washington Post to tour Lemonnier last month. Officials cited “operational security concerns,” although they have permitted journalists to visit in the past.” But, The Post obtained “thousands of pages” of “construction blueprints, drone accident reports and internal planning memos.” The news organization was able to dig through and pull out some details that paint a fuller picture of operations at the base.

The 500-acre camp is the location where “orders to find, track or kill” people in the targeting database the Obama administration has termed the “disposition matrix.” It is a launch pad for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces and where the drone that executed Anwar al-Awlaki took off.

The military recognizes the value of the outpost in Djibouti: [cont’d.]

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