WASHINGTON The United States is building a ring of secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of an aggressive campaign against al Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing U.S. officials.
One base for the unmanned aircraft is being established in Ethiopia and another base has been installed in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, the newspaper reported.
A small fleet of "hunter-killer" drones resumed operations in the islands this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned drones could effectively patrol Somalia from there, the report said.
The U.S. military also has flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from bases in the African nation of Djibouti and the CIA is building a secret airstrip in the Arabian Peninsula to deploy drones over Yemen, the article said.
The White House declined comment on the report.
The United States and Seychellois officials have previously acknowledged the drones' presence in the island but have said that their primary mission was to track pirates.
But classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the unmanned aircraft have also conducted counterterrorism missions over Somalia, about 800 miles (1,287 km) to the northwest, the Post reported.
The newspaper said the cables, obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, reveal that U.S. officials asked leaders in the Seychelles to keep the counterterrorism missions secret.
(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; editing by Vicki Allen)