- Djibouti since June 2002 is hosting 1800 US soldiers that are busy building a permanent military base to coordinate intelligence operations on the Horn and East Africa. Numerous US operations are already interfering with the aims of Muslim societies in the region.
The American military base at Djibouti's ex-French post Camp Lemonier is increasingly present in US media. Here, "the quiet battle" in the war against terrorism is waged by a new US military anti-terrorism taskforce, visiting American journalists conclude. The Djibouti base is turning into the most strategic cell in the US-led war against Muslim terrorists and alleged terrorists.
The US news agency 'Associated Press' (AP) recently sent its journalist Chris Tomlinson to Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, or what he calls "the heart of the Bush administration's quiet battle against Islamist militants operating in six nations in East Africa and in Yemen," from Kenya to Sudan.
The journalist observed great activity at the US base, where soldiers still sleep in tents. Great resources are however spent to upgrade the former French Foreign Legion post and the US troops leave no doubt that they intent to stay for a long time in Djibouti.
- We are the gathering point and dissemination point for all information, Commander Cooper told the AP journalist. "We are empowering host nations to retake neighbourhoods that people are trying to take from them," added Brigadier-General Martin Robeson, referring to Muslim groups. Mr Robeson is the commander of the US task force in Djibouti.
The soldiers interviewed confirm that the US troops stationed in Djibouti are active in all the countries of the region, primarily coordinating intelligence work between Washington, military and civilian US representations in the region and the cooperating governments of the Horn. They claim to have disrupted several terrorist plots during their stay in Djibouti.
The US troops in Djibouti however also are directly involved in what normally is considered within the sovereignty of independent states. This includes border security and coastal security for the countries of the Horn.
Fishermen from the Somali southern city of Raas Kambooni this week learned what the US troops in Djibouti mean with coastal security assistance. According to the newspaper 'Houg Ogal', the fishermen had stumbled onto US intelligence cameras and other electronic devices, installed on the depopulated rocky island of Burr Gaabo near the Kenyan borders, but within Somali territorial waters.
In Kenya, the coastal town of Lamu currently again is experiencing a large joint Kenyan-US military exercise. According to the Kenyan Department of Defence, the US troops involved are part of the anti-terrorism task force for the Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti. The Kenyan-US anti-terrorism exercise is the fourth within short time.
Especially in Somalia and Kenya, the US troops believe to find essential links to their main enemy, the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Somalia has been without a central government for 12 years and a group connected with al-Qaeda in the 1990s temporarily established here. Its stronghold was in Raas Kambooni - where local fishermen now find electronic surveillance devices.
Kenya is the African country where most terrorist attacks have taken place. The US troops therefore keep an extra eye on this country, counting on total collaboration from Nairobi authorities. General Robeson in Djibouti claims that "hundreds of new al-Qaeda members have been recruited" in Kenya, "despite stepped-up anti-terrorism efforts."
But this alleged new recruitment of al-Qaeda members in the region has also been termed a failure of the US military taskforce in Djibouti. Analysts interviewed by the Nairobi-based 'East African' say that the US administration has "failed to respond appropriately to the election of a reform-minded president in Kenya."
- Washington's rhetoric proved largely hollow, the Kenyan analysts added. While the military cooperation between the US and Kenya is booming, the chance to improve Kenyans' lives under the new government of President Mwai Kibaki, supporting his economic and social reforms, has been largely missed by Washington.
With misery still prevailing in Africa's Horn and Kenya, recruitment for Islamist extremists will not diminish, regional critics hold.
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