As the United States (US) scales down its drone campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, the American military is shifting its huge fleet of unmanned aircrafts to other hot spots around the world primarily for spying purpose, The Washington Post reported on Sunday .
The next phase of drone warfare focused more on spying than killing and would extend Pentagon’s strong surveillance networks far beyond traditional, declared combat zones, a report said.
Over the past decade, Pentagon had amassed more than 400 Predators, Reapers, Hunters, Gray Eagles and other high-altitude drones which revolutionised counterterrorism operations.
According to press reports, some of the unmanned aircrafts would return home with the US troops when they left Afghanistan but many of the drones would be deployed to fresh frontiers, for spying on armed groups, drug runners, pirates and other targets that worried the US officials.
According to a report, the US Air Force had drone hubs in Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE) for conducting reconnaissance over the Persian Gulf. Twice since November, Iran had scrambled fighter jets to approach or fire on US Predator drones that edged close to the Iranian airspace.
In Africa, the US Air Force began flying unarmed drones over the SaharaDesert five months ago to track al Qaeda fighters and rebels in northern Mali. Pentagon had also set up drone bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Seychelles. Even so, US forces Commander in Africa told Congress in February that he needed a 15-fold increase in surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering on the continent.
The report noted that in an April speech, Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Pentagon was planning for the first time to send Reaper drones-a bigger, faster version of the Predator-to parts of Asia other than Afghanistan but he did not give details.
A Defence Department spokeswoman said the military had not made any final decisions yet but it was committed to increasing its surveillance in South and Central America.
US military commanders had long pined for drones to aid anti narcotics operations, she said.
“Surveillance drones could really help us out and take the heat and wear and tear off of some of our manned aviation assets,” US Southern Command Chief Marine General John F. Kelly said in March.
One possible destination for more US drones was Colombia. Last year, Colombian armed forces killed 32 high-value narcotics terrorists after the US military helped pinpoint the targets’ whereabouts with manned surveillance aircraft and other equipment, according to a Southern Command spokesman, Jose A. Ruiz.
According to the report, the US military had occasionally operated small drones, four-feet-long ScanEagles, in Colombia. But with larger drones such as Predators and Reapers, the US forces could greatly expand the range and duration of their airborne searches for drug smugglers.