US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis is in Djibouti visiting an important military base at the southern entrance to the Red Sea used as a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.
The visit, part of Mattis’ week-long trip to the Middle East and Africa, comes as the United State increases pressure on militant groups such as al Shabaab in the region.
The US base, with about 4,000 personnel, is located near a Chinese one, still under construction, a cause for concern to some US officials.
Djibouti, sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, also hosts Japanese and French bases.
Al Shabaab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government.
The group’s insurgency aims to drive out peacekeepers, topple Somalia’s western-backed government and impose its strict version of Islam on the Horn of Africa state.
The United States is also carrying out strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The militant group has taken advantage of a civil war pitting Iran-aligned Houthis against the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to widen its control and influence in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.