Official: DOD Seeks 'Small Footprint' in Africa

For Djibouti, location is everything.

The small African nation hosts the one forward operating base the United States maintains on the African continent, and that is due to its unique location, said Amanda J. Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs.

Djibouti hosts about 3,000 U.S. service members at Camp Lemonier -- a former French base adjacent to the capital of Djibouti City. The U.S. service members work to build military capabilities with Djibouti and neighboring nations. The base also is a training and logistics hub.

Yet, it is not a model for how the United States will interact on the African continent, Dory said. "The DOD strategy in Africa has moved toward flexible operating concepts," she said in a recent interview. "[We will] focus on maintaining a small footprint on the continent that is flexible and low cost."

The U.S. military footprint will be different in each African nation, the deputy assistant secretary said.

"Each country will work with us to see what capabilities they need, how much they can commit to developing, and how fast they want to work," she said. "They will also work with us to determine the process of working with us."

U.S. troops, she said, will visit these nations for short periods of time for specific tasks or training cycles.

"We do not want permanent bases," Dory said.

The U.S. military effort on the continent is being accepted by many African leaders, she said. When U.S. Africa Command first stood up, there was concern among some leaders that it signified a "militarization" of U.S. foreign policy and a sort of creeping colonialism. Those fears have subsided, she said.

"Most [African] nations welcome our contributions," Dory said.

Djibouti is unique because it lies on the seam between U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Central Command, officials said, and it is situated at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. Vessels transiting through the Suez Canal to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean sail close to Djibouti, which boasts a natural harbor and roads that link the interior with the coast.

The country has interest from four U.S. combatant commands -- U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Transportation Command, officials said. In addition, other nations work with the Djiboutian government to ensure security in the area.

Djibouti and Camp Lemonier represent a strategic gold mine, Dory said. But Camp Lemonier, she added, will remain an expeditionary base.

"It will remain an austere base. "We will make improvements for force protection, but you will not see a golf course at Camp Lemonier, ever," she said.

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