A former U.S. intelligence specialist has donated surveillance drones to police in Somalia, aiming to help combat a jump in deadly bombings by al Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgents.
The gift comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is increasing military engagement in the region. A member of the U.S. Navy SEAL special forces was killed in Somalia earlier this month on a raid, the first U.S. combat casualty in Somalia since 1993.
The Somalis received five drones, some of which have infra-red or night vision capabilities, from Brett Velicovich, whose service with the U.S. military features in a “Drone Warrior”, a book to be published next month. His life story is also being developed as a movie by Paramount Pictures.
“There’s been a real increase in complex attacks,” the 33-year-old told Reuters on a rooftop overlooking the capital of Mogadishu, as drones swooped and whirred nearby during a four-day police training course.
“Some of the things that these drones will be able to do will be to conduct surveillance … to look out for other potential Shabaab members who may be on rooftops or may be there to look at hitting the first responders.”
The al Shabaab insurgents have been steadily losing control of cities and towns in the Horn of Africa nation since withdrawing from the capital in 2011. But they are hitting back with increasingly large and complex bombings.
Bombs killed at least 723 people and wounded 1,116 in Somalia last year, according to Nairobi-based think-tank Sahan Research, up from 193 dead and 442 wounded in 2015.
Increasingly, al Shabaab is using several bombs or a combination of bombs and gunmen to attack security forces who respond.
So Bancroft, a Washington-based organisation contracted by the U.S. State Department to train the Somali police, brought Velicovich to Mogadishu to show officers how to use drones in examining potential threats or blast sites.
“I used to work with a lot of different drones in the U.S. military and now we see the same type of technology readily available on the open market,” said Velicovich, who has worked on similar programmes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is planning a programme against wildlife poachers in Kenya.
“The question is how can we use this (technology) to protect the people of Somalia?”