Human Rights Held Up American Drone Base
Construction of base in Ethiopia ‘languished’ for a year
Satellite imagery from Digital Globe suggests that work at a secretive drone base in Ethiopia may have been delayed for at least a year due to human rights issues.
The U.S. Air Force has been using the base at Arba Minch airport since early 2011.
The flying branch reportedly uses the base to launch unmanned strikes against Al Shabaab. A clamshell-shape hangar regularly seen at other drone bases is present in recent images of the airstrip.
Washington and Ethiopia have been fighting the Islamist terrorist group since the mid-2000s. Older images show that the area was prepped for the Americans as early as 2009.
But the signature aircraft shelter is still under construction in an image from November 2010. The structure is completely absent in an image dated the previous month.
We don’t know what caused this delay. However, a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks may offer some clues.
The 2009 cable specifically says the Arba Minch project “is languishing for lack of … paperwork.” At the same time, the communique mentions Ethiopian frustration with and obstruction of the so-called “Leahy Vetting Process.”
This process is designed to prevent Washington from helping out military or police forces responsible for “gross human rights violations.” This could apply to Ethiopia’s security forces, which are under accusations of human rights violations at home and abroad.
These objections to the Leahy Process could explain the lag in construction between 2009 and 2010. American access to the site could easily have been linked to military aid.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reportedly offered to “find a shortcut” around the “Arba Minch issue.”
But human rights violations or not, Washington and Ethiopia clearly found a solution. The flying branch is still using the Arba Minch base today.