November 16, 2002
SHAKE DJIBOUTI:U.S. Turns Horn of Africa Into a Military Hub (MICHAEL R. GORDON, November 17, 2002, NY Times)
Bereft of oil or valuable resources, the impoverished nation of Djibouti has long been a desirable base for Western militaries. Put simply, what Djibouti offers is location. It is close to Yemen and near the Bal el Mandeb Strait, a critical choke-point where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. The sea lanes near Djibouti are particularly critical since they are used for commercial shipping and to transport American war materiel to the Persian Gulf.
Djibouti has other advantages for the American military as well, including a serviceable airport and harbor. The country is accustomed to the presence of Western military forces and is politically stable.
France, which had colonized Djibouti (pronounced ji-BOOT-e) before it became independent in 1977, still maintains a force of 2,800 strong here. Djibouti, in fact, is France's largest foreign military base.
American marines who have landed on the northern coast of Djibouti three times this year in major exercises are fast becoming regular, if temporary, visitors, but other forces are digging in for the long haul.
The United States Central Command is setting up a military headquarters to oversee operations in and around the Horn of Africa. Led by a Marine officer, Maj. Gen. John Sattler, the headquarters will initially be based on the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney, but it will probably be moved ashore.
About 800 American Special Operations forces and other American troops have already moved into Camp Lemonier, a former French barracks near the Djibouti airport that the Americans have turned into a bastion.
The military is not the only American organization that has found Djibouti to be a convenient launching pad. The Central Intelligence Agency is flying classified missions from an airfield in Djibouti using the Predator, an pilotless drone equipped with Hellfire missiles, according to Western officers.
The C.I.A. missions include a recent strike in which a car was blasted in a Predator attack in a remote area of Yemen, killing a Qaeda operative and five other occupants of the vehicle.
Another nation for the Axis of Good and the noose tightens further around the Islamicists. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 16, 2002 3:56 PM