Mattis Visits Key African Base 04/23 09:59
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Sunday visited Djibouti to bolster ties
with the tiny and impoverished African country that is home to an important
base for U.S. counterterrorism forces, including drones.
DJIBOUTI (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Sunday visited
Djibouti to bolster ties with the tiny and impoverished African country that is
home to an important base for U.S. counterterrorism forces, including drones.
Mattis, the first Trump administration official to visit Djibouti, planned
to meet with President Ismail Omar Guelleh and greet U.S. and French troops. He
was accompanied by Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command.
The U.S. operates drone aircraft from Djibouti for surveillance and combat
missions against al-Qaida-affiliated extremists in Somalia and elsewhere in the
China is building a military base in Djibouti, a former French colony in the
Horn of Africa.
For years the U.S. has operated a fleet of armed drones, initially from
Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier, where French troops also are based, and now from a
separate airfield. Djibouti took on added importance to the U.S. military after
the Sept. 11 attacks, in part as a means of tracking and intercepting al-Qaida
militants fleeing Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded that country in October
The U.S. has a long-term agreement with Djibouti for hosting American
forces; that pact was renewed in 2014.
Djibouti has a highly prized port on the Gulf of Aden. The country is
sandwiched between Somalia and Eritrea, and also shares a border with Ethiopia.
Mattis is using the early months as defense secretary to renew or strengthen
relations with key defense allies and partners such as Djibouti, whose location
makes it a strategic link in the network of overseas U.S. military bases.
Djibouti also has been instrumental to international efforts to counter
piracy over the past decade.
Mattis' predecessor at the Pentagon, Ash Carter, never visited Djibouti
during his two years as President Barack Obama's defense secretary.
Over the past week Mattis has met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel,
Egypt and Qatar. In Doha, Qatar's capital, he told ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad
Al Thani on Saturday that he would personally tend to the relationship.
"Your highness, relationships get better or weaker, and I'm committed to
making it better from our side," Mattis said.
The U.S. has a fleet of fighter, bomber, transport, surveillance and
refueling aircraft at Qatar's al-Udeid air base, which also is home to an
operations center that coordinates U.S. air missions throughout the Mideast and