“A U.S. military drone crashed in a Somali coastal area south of Mogadishu today, a local government official and witnesses told AFP” last week:
“It’s a small unmanned American plane. It’s small and can be carried by three people,” said Mohamed Mohamoud Helmi, the government official in charge of security in the town of Merka.
“The object, a small plane, is now in the hands of the police forces. It fell near the coastal area of Agaren,” said Osman Hassan Hussein, Merka’s police chief.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.
Agaren is located around five kilometres south of Merka, a large town around 100 kilometres south of the capital Mogadishu.
“It was flying from the direction of the ocean and it crashed in an area where children were playing football,” said Helmi. “It doesn’t appear to be damaged and we are ready to hand it back to anyone who claims ownership,” he added.
Several witnesses told AFP the drone was found early today.
“I saw the small plane, it’s about one metre and a half,” local president Mohamed Saddam said. “It has cameras on it and things like computer components.”
What kind of drone was it? And what does that tell us about U.S. Navy operations off of Somalia?
My guess, based on the description, is an Insitu Scan Eagle — a 40-pound drone launched by catapult and recovered in a net. The Marines use leased Scan Eagles for spotting insurgents in Iraq. The Navy recently announced it would buy some of the birds outright, and promptly began testing Scan Eagles aboard cargo ships, destroyers and Special Operations boats.
The latter is key, I believe. Last week the Navy launched a cruise missile to take out a suspected jihadi in southern Somalia. While the crashed Scan Eagle might have been used to conduct post-strike reconnaissance, I believe that it’s more likely the drone was supporting U.S. Special Forces on the ground.
Good, high-fidelity intel is damn hard to come by in Somalia. The lack of info practically begs for SF teams on the ground to provide solid targeting data. (There are persistent rumors that American special operators were in Somalia during the Ethiopian invasion in December 2006.) The Scan Eagles, launched from boats or warships off the coast, might be the SF teams’ eyes in the sky.