March 01, 2012: On February 18th a SOCOM (Special Operations Command) U-28
aircraft crashed in Djibouti. That event appeared in the news and revealed
two little-known aspects of American military operations. First, there was
the presence of SOCOM forces in Djibouti. France and the United States have
had special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) stationed in
Djibouti, which is next to northern Somalia, for years. France has had
commandos there for over a decade and the U.S. moved in after September 11,
2001. But you don't hear much about this corner of the War on Terror,
despite the numerous terror groups in the region (especially Yemen and
Somalia). Why is that? Well, it's complicated.
France has been building up their special operations capability in Djibouti
during the last six years in anticipation of problems in Eritrea and
Somalia, both of which are involved in disputes with Ethiopia. The Addis
Ababa (Ethiopia)-Djibouti railroad is pretty lucrative for Djibouti and
France (because it is Ethiopia's main outlet to the sea), and fighting
between Ethiopia and either of its neighbors could create problems there.
American Special Forces in Djibouti have a base near the main French one.
It's pretty easy to spot on Google Earth.
U.S. forces were increased after resistance collapsed in Iraq four years
ago. Now there is even a small CIA base in Mogadishu, the traditional
capital of Somalia. The CIA, and similar outfits from other nations, also
work from Djibouti. But most of the effort is directed at monitoring what is
going on in the region (mainly Somalia and Yemen but also Eritrea, Kenya,
and Ethiopia) not at interfering with the local terrorists. Not much,
Then there's the U-28 aircraft. This is actually a military version of the
Pilatus PC-12 single engine transport. This aircraft has a max weight of 4.7
tons and a payload of 1.5 tons. The U-28 can carry nine passengers (plus one
pilot) or over half a ton of cargo. Cruising speed is 500 kilometers an hour
and average endurance is five hours per sortie. The U.S. Air Force operates
twenty U-28s for SOCOM and has three on order. Four air force personnel were
killed in the recent U-28 crash. U-28s have been reported operating over,
and landing in, Somalia. The small, but usually very reliable, U-28 goes
largely unnoticed over Somalia. That's because most of the aircraft seen
there are one or two engine propeller driven planes smuggling something.
The PC-12 entered service 18 years ago and over a thousand have been built
(in Switzerland) so far. The PC-12 is mainly used by civilian operators.
It's popular as a corporate passenger aircraft, as an air ambulance, and an
airliner in remote areas. The PC-12 is known for being easy to fly,
reliable, and rugged.
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Received on Thu Mar 01 2012 - 09:05:53 EST