The United States has secured a ten year lease extension on Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, an important base in the region, but may extend the lease for twenty additional years.
The new agreement was announced on Monday by President Barack Obama and Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who was visiting the White House.
“Camp Lemonnier is extraordinarily important to our work throughout the Horn of Africa but also throughout the region. We very much appreciate the hospitality that Djiboutians provide,” Obama said. “Overall, this is a critical facility that we maintain in Djibouti, we could not do it without the president’s cooperation, we’re grateful for him agreeing for a long term presence there,” he added.
Camp Lemonnier, next to Djibouti’s international airport, is the only official American military base on the African continent and is an important hub for stationing special forces and military aircraft operating in the region. Around 4 000 American and allied personnel are based at Camp Lemonnier.
Guelleh yesterday told reporters that Djibouti and the United States had established a “strategic partnership” to deal with “the fight against terrorism, piracy and human trafficking in our region,” he said. “The fact that we welcome US forces in our country shows our support for international peace, and for peace in our region as well.”
The Associated Press reports that the lease will cost $63 million per year for the next ten years. Apparently the United States paid Djibouti $38 million a year for the use of the base under the previous lease agreement.
The new agreement has provision to extend the lease for ten more years without renegotiating the terms and also includes a provision for a ten year extension beyond that at a new yearly rate.
“We’ve agreed to extend our presence at Camp Lemonnier and to increase our cooperation across a range of areas, including security, counter-terrorism, trade and energy cooperation,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told Agence France Presse.
The US military increased its presence at Camp Lemonnier following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the base has now become its biggest military outpost in Africa. The Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJF-HOA) is based at Lemonnier.
Due to its importance to the US military, Camp Lemonnier is undergoing a series of upgrades, with $808 million planned to be spent on improving infrastructure at the site. Upgrades include new buildings, including a hangar, air operations centre, armoury, operations centre, warehouse, training facility, vehicle maintenance shop etc.
The upgrades come as the US diversifies the missions assigned to the base. After the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Libya on September 11, 2012, the Pentagon established a 150 person strong rapid response force at the Camp, the New York Times reports. In December last year, 45 soldiers from Djibouti were sent to the South Sudanese capital Juba to reinforce security at the US embassy there.
Last year the US military stopped flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Camp Lemonnier after a string of crashes, moving operations to a remote desert airstrip. In late 2010, the US dispatched eight MQ-1B Predators to Djibouti and turned Camp Lemonnier into a full-time UAV base. These UAVs have been used to strike targets in Yemen and Somalia.
However, the operation of UAVs from Camp Lemonnier has been challenged by a number of accidents, with five incidents involving General Atomics MQ-1 Predators since the beginning of 2011, according to AFP.
As a result, Djiboutian officials asked the American military to halt UAV flights from Camp Lemonnier and the UAV fleet in Djibouti was moved to Chabelley Airfield, around 10 kilometres from the capital Djibouti. According to a document from the US Congress seen by the Washington Post, some $13 million was spent on upgrading the Chabelley airfield in support of UAV flights.
The US military also flies UAVs from Arba Minch in Ethiopia and Niamey in Niger.
In addition to the US military, other foreign countries have a military presence at Camp Lemonnier. France and Spain, for example, base aircraft there, mainly for anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa.