A US military base in the impoverished African nation of Djibouti has served as the combat hub for the Obama administration’s expanding assassination drone missions against countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
US military forces have clandestinely transformed a remote former French military outpost, Camp Lemonnier, into “the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone” to wage what it boasts as a “model war” of targeted-killing against a growing tide of anti-American groups in the Muslim world, which the US commonly describes as “terrorists,” according to a Washington Post article published on Friday.
“The Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the legal and operational details of its targeted-killing program,” the report states, adding that US authorities determine in secret discussions the individuals to be targeted in America’s “perpetual war” against perceived affiliates of al-Qaeda.
“Secrecy blankets most of the camp’s activities,” the daily emphasizes, noting that the US military rejected its requests to visit Camp Lemonnier last month. The top commander of the camp, Army Maj. Gen. Ralph Baker, only agreed to respond to general questions about the military base and refused to comment on assassination drone operations or missions associated to nearby nations of Somalia and Yemen.
The daily cites documents acquired from open sources that point to “Pentagon’s ambitious plan to further intensify drone operations here (in Djibouti) in the coming months” and the central role played by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which US President Barack Obama has persistently relied on to execute “most sensitive counterterrorism missions.”
According to the report, nearly 3,200 US soldiers, civilians and contractors are currently assigned to the military camp, “where they train foreign militaries, gather intelligence and dole out humanitarian aid across East Africa as part of a campaign to prevent extremists from taking root.”
The daily further reveals that Camp Lemonnier is currently “hardening into the US military’s first permanent drone war base,” although it has been referred to by Pentagon officials as a temporary base in the past decade.
According to the lengthy article, the US military base in Djibouti currently serves as “the centerpiece of an expanding constellation of half a dozen US drone and surveillance bases in Africa” established to wage a war against a “new generation of terrorist groups across the continent, from Mali to Libya to the Central African Republic.”
The US military also flies assassination and surveillance drones from “small civilian airports” in Ethiopia and the Seychelles, it adds.
In August, says the article, the US Defense Department submitted a “master plan” to Congress, detailing how the camp will be used over the next 25 years. Nearly $1.4 billion in construction projects are planned, including “a huge new compound that could house up to 1,100 Special Operations forces, more than triple the current number.”
Lemonnier, according to the report, has also emerged as a hub for conventional aircraft. “In October 2011, the military boosted the airpower at the base by deploying a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets, which can fly faster and carry more munitions than Predators.”
US military officials declined to respond to the daily’s queries about the F-15s mission. Two former defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the F-15s “are flying combat sorties over Yemen.”
The strategic value of Djibouti is unparalleled to the US military, according to the report. “Sandwiched between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Camp Lemonnier enables US aircraft to reach hot spots such as Yemen or Somalia in minutes. Djibouti’s port also offers easy access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.”
“This is not an outpost in the middle of nowhere that is of marginal interest,” said Amanda Dory, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa as quoted in the daily. “This is a very important location in terms of US interests, in terms of freedom of navigation, when it comes to power projection.”