Recently the United States (U.S.) reached an agreement with Djibouti that would allow America to maintain its base, Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti for the next ten years, with a possible extension for another decade under the same terms. The price of rent went up from roughly $30 million dollars a year to $63 million, but despite the significant financial cost, the U.S. believes this base to be worth the investment.
As America’s only permanent military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier is vital for America’s mission in the Middle East and Africa. Approximately 4,000 America military, civilian, and contract workers are based out of Camp Lemonnier. With both conventional and special forces stationed there, the strategic position of this base helps when it comes to assisting in combating counterterrorism. Of particularly importance is the fact that Camp Lemonnier lodges aerial drones, especially those used in the drone strikes in Yemen that target al-Qaeda affiliates. Furthermore, it serves as an excellent point from which to combat pirates off of the coast of Somalia and it is in close proximity to many al-Shabaab terrorist fighters. This not only allows America a base on the edge of a volatile region of the world, but it enables the U.S. to more capably pursue terrorists or those deemed a danger to America's national security interests.
However, there are concerns about some of the activity conducted at this base. Last year, following a number of drone accidents and crashes, the U.S. had to relocate it's fleet of drones farther away from the airport, amid concerns that the drones would cause an incident with civilian aircraft. Additionally, allegations exist regarding the possibility that Camp Lemonnier is a location of a CIA black site, where detainees face intense interrogations. Just a few days ago, Al Jazeera published an article investigating the accusations of Yeman’s Mohammad al-Asad, who claims he was detained and tortured in Djibouti. A still classified Senate report investigating the use of Camp Lemonnier as a site to perform acts of torture indicates that people were detained there, and that at least two were wrongly detained.
Roble Olhaye, Djbouti’s ambassador to the U.S., insists that his country is not a “knowing participate” in any torture. Regardless of the drawbacks, for Djibouti, this new deal with the U.S. will likely prove profitable. The tiny country with a population of less than 1 million stands to be the recipient of substantial developmental aid and its soldiers will receive training, equipment, and assistance from the American military.
Tonight, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will deliver a speech in Chicago regarding why America should continue to pursue a strong global presence. As America continues to engage in world affairs with a reduced budget, the U.S. will be forced to conduct a deeper examination of America’s national security strategy and how to best achieve those goals. Maintaining overseas bases has significant benefits, but in financially difficult times, not everything can stay. Despite allegations that Camp Lemonnier is used as a black site, the overall strategic value of this base will likely ensure its survival in the years to come.