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US Drones Hunt Pirates Off Somali Coast

Drone image via BBC

The United States has deployed Reapers in the Indian Ocean to monitor Somali pirate activity in the area. The presence of the unmanned drones marks a significant change in tactics, in fighting piracy on the high seas. While this brings a sense of relief to many sea captains  it has also rung alarm bells with other in East Africa.

The drones, which are under the control of US Africa Command (Africom), are capable of zooming in on pirate ships undetected from as high as 50,000 feet. This technology is intended to address two key problems in dealing with pirates. Response time in the open ocean has made catching pirates red-handed difficult, and prosecutions of pirates have been dismissed on several occasions due to a lack of evidence. Africom officials hope that the drones will give them a quicker response time by vastly improving surveillance capabilities, and will provide photographic evidence vital for successful prosecutions.

Whilet the new anti-piracy technology is being welcomed by many, others in East Africa are concerned that the Reapers are a sign of increased militarization in the region. Africom officials concede that the drones are capable of carrying the same weaponry used to fight terrorists in Afghanistan, but maintain that there are no current plans to arm the drones. Coming shortly after the US has increased its military assistance to the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, some worry that the drones could be used to attack Islamist militants inside Somalia in the future. Drone attacks in Afghanistan are coming under increasing international scrutiny due to uncertainty as to the precautions being taken to avoid civilian casualties.

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