U.S. forces join French and German troops in Horn of Africa port of Dibbouti

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Sep 30 10:47:06 MDT 2002

U.S. Military Grows in Djibouti

Filed at 7:50 a.m. ET
DJIBOUTI (AP) -- Several dozen American soldiers raise a big green tent and
shuffle it across the sand, making room for yet more equipment at a new U.S.
military base that is growing larger by the day in this small but
strategically located country in the Horn of Africa.
While their colleagues rearrange their living quarters, other soldiers in
sunglasses and floppy hats keep watch at the entrance to Camp Le Monier from
a machine gun-mounted Humvee.
The five-month-old U.S. base in this former French colony just miles across
the Red Sea from Yemen and within striking distance of Iraq is no longer a
secret. But finding out what the Americans are up to is another matter.
``Since the beginning of the global war on terrorism, the U.S. Central
Command has maintained a military presence in various countries within its
area of responsibility in order to train for and respond to a variety of
potential operations,'' said Capt. David Connolly, an Army spokesman flown
in hastily from a U.S. base in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar to deal with
inquisitive reporters.
``Our forces in Djibouti and Camp Le Monier are providing limited support to
other U.S. forces in the region,'' he said.
That's all: no news and no access.
ABC first reported two weeks ago that American commandos were in Djibouti,
raising speculation they were preparing to pursue al-Qaida suspects in
But the Pentagon acknowledged only that it had sent 800 soldiers, including
special forces, to the new base.
Nothing was said about the 1,500 Marines training at Obock, 30 miles north
of Djibouti town across the Gulf of Tadjoura.
Djiboutian officials have denied their country will serve as a base for any
action in Yemen, a country with which it has historic economic and cultural
``If we give some facilities to our friends, Americans or French, to use our
climate conditions for conditioning their troops, that doesn't mean it's for
a specific operation,'' President Ismail Omar Guelleh told The Associated
Press. ``This is normal bilateral relations with those superpowers.''
He added that if U.S. troops were headed for Yemen, they could operate from
their own ships that patrol the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait that
separate the two countries.
Djibouti's acting foreign minister, Mahamoud Ali, said American troops have
been conducting large-scale exercises involving ground troops, helicopters,
boats and AC-130 planes fitted with air-to-surface missiles.
Giant U.S. Air Force cargo planes swoop in and out of Djibouti's small
airport every day as camouflaged MH-53 helicopters with the word ``Marines''
barely visible on their shells ferry men and equipment to and from Le
Djiboutians say terrified sheep and goats tumble into ravines running from
the roar of the helicopters sweeping overhead.
The rugged, hostile terrain of Djibouti, coupled with humidity and high
temperatures, make it an ideal place for training troops in extreme
conditions. Much of the Massachusetts-sized country of 740,000 people is
France first used Djibouti as a fueling station in the 19th century for
coal-powered ships headed for the Indian Ocean, Indochina and the South
Pacific. It became a haven for gun runners and pearl divers and later
France's largest overseas military base. France still maintains 2,850
military personnel in Djibouti 25 years after independence
Foreign Legionnaires in tight khaki shorts and white ``kepi'' caps amble
through town when they're not out on grueling exercises. French soldiers
with shaved heads and tattoos pack the bars and restaurants at night.
They're often joined by some of the 1,000 German soldiers who have been in
Djibouti since January as part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The
Americans seem to stay home at night.

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