The United States need not leave Djibouti, but it is time to consider a Plan B for otherwise a single whisper from Beijing to Djibouti’s president could cripple America’s ability to defend itself and its allies
BERBERA, SOMALILAND—Djibouti’s role in U.S. national security has for decades been inversely proportional to its size. The tiny East African country has long been a logistical hub for the U.S. military. Its airfield helped supply U.S. forces in Somalia in the early 1990s, and U.S. Navy vessels visited its port frequently. Because Djibouti—a French colony or territory for nearly a century before its 1977 independence—hosted French forces, the U.S. military could utilize the French infrastructure when necessary.
The real import of Djibouti to U.S. security calculations, however, came after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the George W. Bush administration formed Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) first to coordinate and conduct regional stability operations and then to oversee counterterrorism operations in both Yemen and across the broader region. The Obama administration’s growing reliance ondrone strikes—many of which it launched from Djibouti—only increased the country’s importance. Since formally arriving, the Pentagon has invested several billion dollars in Camp Lemonnier, today the largest U.S. military base in Africa and the keystone of U.S. Africa Command operations, hosting four thousand soldiers, sailors, and Marines spread over five hundred acres.