U.S., Djibouti reach agreement to keep counterterrorism base in Horn of Africa nation


“The fact that we welcome U.S. forces in our country show our support for international peace, and peace in our region,” said Ismail Omar Guelleh, president of Djibouti, at the White House. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The United States has reached agreement with the government of Djibouti to preserve a key military base in the Horn of Africa that has been central to U.S. counterterrorism efforts in East Africa — and previously served as a key launching point for drone strikes throughout the region.

President Obama announced the agreement Monday at the White House during a meeting with Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh. An administration official said the U.S. government would pay $630 million over the next decade to Djibouti to lease the base, called Camp Lemonnier. At $63 million per year, the fee is almost double the $38 million that the United States has been paying.

“Camp Lemonnier is extraordinarily important not only to our work throughout the Horn of Africa but throughout the region,” Obama said.

The military base, which houses 4,000 personnel, had been the launching site for key elements of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy in East Africa and Yemen. U.S. military forces have spent years trying to counter the presence of al-Qaeda in Yemen and al-Shabab in Somalia.

Since its establishment in 2001, the base — which shares an airstrip with Djibouti’s commercial airport — was secretly transformed into one of the most active sites for launching drone strikes outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Last year, the military was forced to relocate drones after a series of crashes led to intense fears that civilians could be killed at the airport. The military now uses airstrips in more remote parts of the country for drone operations.

Obama and Guelleh also discussed economic development, health care and education.

Obama credited Djibouti with aiding the fight against terrorism in Somalia, where an alliance of African nations is working to counter the presence of al-Shabab.

“There’s a significant presence of soldiers from Djibouti who are participating in the multinational force that has been able to push back al-Shabab’s control over large portions of Somalia,” Obama said.

According to the terms of the base agreement, the United States and Djibouti can renew the lease for another 10 years at the same rate of $63 million a year. They can then renew the lease for another 10 years at a renegotiated rate.

“The fact that we welcome the U.S. forces in our country show our support for international peace and for peace in our region as well,” Guelleh said. “We do that all for peace in the world and for peace in Africa.”

At the meeting, Obama also pledged to increase financial aid to Djibouti outside of the base agreement, including helping to expand skills training and foreign aid.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics