Pentagon Gets to Keep Vital African Base — For a Price

May 8, 2014 0

Washington scores 30-year extension at Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier You won’t find any foreign locale more important to U.S. security interests than Camp Lemonnier, the...

Washington scores 30-year extension at Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier

You won’t find any foreign locale more important to U.S. security interests than Camp Lemonnier, the sprawling air and sea base in Djibouti, a tiny nation on the Horn of Africa.

Djibouti borders Somalia—and Yemen is just a short flight away over open water. The U.S. conducts operations against Al Qaeda and affiliated terror groups in both countries. Djibouti also commands the entrance to the Red Sea, with its shipping lanes connecting the Middle East to Europe and America.

After meeting Djiboutian president Ismail Omar Guelleh at the White House on Monday, U.S. president Barack Obama announced that the Pentagon would extend its “long-term” presence at Camp Lemonnier … for up to 30 years.

Three thousand Americans per year rotate through the 500-acre facility.

American troops arrived at the former French Foreign Legion base in 2001. The U.S. and Djiboutian governments plan to sign a new agreement granting the American armed forces a 10-year extension, with options for another two decades.

Camp Lemonnier has become essential to U.S. interests. America’s drone strikes and F-15 fighter-bomber raids—targeting militants in Yemen and Somalia—originate at the base. International forces also launch counter-piracy patrols from the facility.

In addition to fighting pirates and terrorists, American troops at Camp Lemonnier also support humanitarian, counter-terror and evacuation operations in Uganda, South Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

Washington will pay $63 million annually to Djibouti, almost double the current bill of $38 million. The real price tag is likely to be even higher, as Obama also promised Djibouti military training and equipment, as well as economic cooperation and development aid.

The Obama administration is also happy to ignore Djibouti’s less-than-stellar human rights record. The non-profit group Freedom House classifies Djibouti as “not free.” There are frequent reports of Djiboutian security forces harassing political opposition members and human rights activists.

Unperturbed, the Pentagon plans to invest more than $1 billion in upgrading Camp Lemonnier’s facilities, preparing the outpost for the next quarter-century of American wars.

Peter Dörrie is a freelance journalist covering African resource and security politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @peterdoerrie. Sign up for a daily War is Boring email update here. Subscribe to WIB’s RSS feed here and follow the main page here.