Geopolitics

Exclusive: US Armed Forces Piloting Drones From Bases In Germany

The findings raise serious questions of international law. German officials have denied knowledge of the operations.

US aircraft at Ramstein Air Base in Germany
US aircraft at Ramstein Air Base in Germany
Christian Fuchs, John Goetz and Hans Leyendecker

MUNICH - The targeted killing of presumed terrorists by drones in Africa has been largely conducted from US military bases in Germany, an investigation by German TV channel ARD’s "Panorama" and the Süddeutsche Zeitung has revealed.

Particularly involved in running the drone missions are the Stuttgart-based US military high command for Africa (Africom) and the US Air Force’s Air Operations Center (AOC), located in Ramstein, in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz.

Ten deadly drone attacks killing up to 29 people have so far been carried out in Somalia by US forces. Most of those killed were believed to be members of the militant Al Shabab, which aims to create an Islamic state on the Horn of Africa.

Since 2011 an air mission control center in Ramstein has been guiding US Air Force attacks in Africa including Somalia. Up to 650 staff at the Ramstein control center monitor African air space, evaluate pictures taken by drone and satellite, and plan new missions. Without the special satellite relay station for unmanned flying objects in Ramstein the drone attacks in Africa "could not be carried out," according to a US Air Force internal memo.

Documents make clear that there are plans to replace an old facility with a better, permanent one. U.S. Congress approved the equivalent of 8.4m euros for this in 2011. "Realizing this project will improve satellite communication with drones long-term," says the document.

When asked, a US military spokesperson said that generally responsibility for all military operations in Africa -- including the drone missions -- lay with Africom in Stuttgart. An internal memo shows that Africom is seeking to hire "secret service analysts" whose task would be to “nominate” targets for drone missions in Africa.

According to Thilo Marauhn, a Giessen-based specialist in international law, the blatant involvement of Germany in a secret drone program poses a number of potentially troubling legal issues. "The killing of suspected individuals with the help of armed drones outside an armed conflict situation" could, Marauhn said -- if Germany’s government knew about it but didn’t protest -- constitute "being an accessory in an abuse of international law."

When questioned a spokesperson for the German government stated that the government had "no knowledge" of the fact that drone attacks were planned or carried out by US armed forces in Germany.

German constitutional law forbids military deployment that runs counter to international law from within Germany's territory. In the specific instance however, the spokesperson said, the federal government had “no frames of reference.”

According to secret services, a US drone attack carried out on Wednesday on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, killed the second in command of the Pakistani Taliban, Wali-ur Rehman.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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