But as far back as November 2017, the Pentagon deployed Air Force variants of C-130 Hercules cargo planes with dispensers called common launch tubes, or C.L.T.s, to launch a new kind of guided weapon at Somali targets, according to a report released by Amnesty International on March 20.
While Africa Command would not confirm to The Times its use of ground-attack aircraft in the region, Amnesty International found photographs of an American airstrike site that showed the remains of a GBU-69 Small Glide Munition, a bomb that can be dropped only using a C.L.T., which in this instance was fitted to an AC-130 gunship.
The GBU-69 can only be deployed from something called the Common Launch Tube, made by Systima Technologies. The 4 ft long, 7" dia. CLT has been turning previously unarmed aircraft into attack platforms pic.twitter.com/LsVptc9Btz— John Ismay (@johnismay) March 27, 2019
The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission.
Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.
At just four feet long and slightly less than seven inches in diameter, the launch tube attached to these manned gunships dispenses a type of air-to-ground weapon that the Pentagon is buying in greater numbers. These tubes can, according to manufacturers’ websites, be fitted onto much of the Defense Department’s fleet of previously unarmed surveillance planes to enable covert attacks — and thus potentially vastly increase the number of aircraft capable of carrying out airstrikes, allowing the American military to discreetly move converted gunships around the world. (end of excerpt)
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