The Pentagon has begun a burst of spending in Africa, expanding its main base on the continent and investing in air facilities, flight services, telecommunications and electrical upgrades as the U.S. military deepens its footprint in a region with a rising threat of Islamist terrorism.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures, detailed in unclassified federal documents, demonstrate Africa’s increasing importance to U.S. military, according to a report in the LA Times.
By far the most significant expansion is occurring at Camp Lemonnier in the deeply impoverished nation of Djibouti, a sleepy backwater on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, just north of Somalia. The sprawling base, built out of a onetime outpost of the French Foreign Legion, has been the Pentagon’s primary facility in Africa for a decade.
Defense officials last month awarded $200 million in contracts to revamp the base’s power plants and build a multistory operations center, aircraft hangar, living quarters, gym and other facilities on a sun-scorched 20-acre site next to the tiny country’s only international airport (with which it shares a runway).
The projects are part of $1.2 billion in planned improvements over the next 25 years that will accelerate Camp Lemonnier’s transformation from a makeshift installation where a few hundred Marines once slept in tents, into an enduring 600-acre base that now houses about 4,000 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors, the Times reported.
“Africa is front and center now for the Pentagon, so that means Lemonnier is front and center,” said Rudolph Atallah, former counterterrorism director for Africa at the Defense Department and now chief executive of White Mountain Research, a security consulting company.
US increases military operations in Africa
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According to Press TV: “The United States has stepped up its military activity in Africa in recent months, with more training of regional militaries in the continent, increased air strikes and a steady stream of drone surveillance.”
Thousands of U.S. soldiers are now gearing up for missions in Africa as part of a new Pentagon strategy to train and advise indigenous forces, The New York Times reports.
The first-of-its-kind program is drawing on troops from a 3,500-member brigade from the Army’s First Infantry Division to conduct more than 100 missions in Africa over the next year, the newspaper said.
In addition to training African militaries, the U.S. has been launching a massive buildup of troops into Italy, putting 13,000 troops in the nation to be able to launch raids into Africa, particularly northern Africa, at a moment’s notice.
With the launch of Africa Command or AFRICOM in October 2008, U.S. foreign policy toward the continent has been militarized with policy makers increasingly viewing Africa through a military lens, said John Campbell, a former ambassador to Nigeria and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.