The US military has confirmed the previously unreported loss of two General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1 Predator unmanned air vehicles in separate incidents during operational missions in Turkey and Mali.
The earlier crash occurred on 18 September, 2012. While a US Air Force accident report does not describe the crash location beyond being within the US Central Command Area of Operations - a standard reference to accidents outside Iraq and Afghanistan, where the UAV's presence may be politically sensitive or not publicly acknowledged - the date and aircraft type are consistent with a previously undisclosed crash in Turkey's southeastern Hakkari province, near the border with Iraq.
US Air Force
The USAF accident investigation report was inconclusive, reporting a sudden 'lost link' - a loss of satellite telemetry - between the UAV and the Whiteman AFB, Missouri-based crew. Efforts to re-establish the data link failed, and the aircraft crashed approximately 3nm (5.5km) to the southwest.
Prior to the lost link, "the aircraft was flying a pre-programmed mission in a repeating elliptical 'loiter' programme," says the report. The data link dropped out, recovered momentarily, then dropped completely, it says.
Only some of the wreckage was recovered, which failed to indicate a clear cause for the crash, which officially remains unknown.
The aircraft was likely one of four deployed to Incirlik, Turkey, to observe the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by both the Turkish and US governments. The crash was reported by Turkish media outlets after the PKK claimed to have shot it down. Video footage of people sifting through the wreckage was posted to the organisation's YouTube channel, clearly showing MQ-1 parts, including the engine and electro-optical/infrared sensor turret.
The second crash occurred on 9 April, 2013 in northern Mali, and was confirmed by the US Africa Command. The aircraft, an MQ-1B, crashed in a remote area of northern Mali, near the border with Algeria. Though the crash was discussed on internet forums, until now the US military had not confirmed its occurrence.
"An investigation into the incident is pending," the command says. "Initial indications were that it had a mechanical malfunction."
No additional details are officially available, but the aircraft is likely to have been supporting the French and Malian intervention in northern Mali to displace a coalition of Islamist militants and Tuareg separatists. That coalition, which had taken over most of northern Mali and declared independence, eventually fractured and collapsed.
The operating location and mission of the aircraft remain unknown. The Predator may have been conducting reconnaissance for French or Malian forces, or supporting US special forces troops that have been deployed in small numbers for several years. A deployment of two MQ-9 Reapers has been openly stationed in neighboring Niamey, Niger, since then. However, the USA has also previously flown from Tamenrasset, a nearby Algerian air force base.