Wednesday May 15, 2019
China's People's Liberation Army hailed the Djibouti facility as a landmark achievement for the country [AP]
The presence of foreign militaries in the Horn of Africa is
increasing, with a wide variety of international security actors—from
Europe, the United States, the Middle East, the Gulf, and Asia—
currently operating in the region. This is profoundly changing the
region’s external security environment, new research finds.
A new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
(SIPRI) entitled The Foreign Military Presence in the Horn of Africa
Region states that the Horn has experienced a proliferation of foreign
military bases and a build-up of naval forces. This presents major
challenges for existing African and Horn regional security structures,
which are poorly adapted to the new external security politics of the
region. It raises the prospect of proxy struggles, growing geopolitical
tensions and a further extension of externally driven security agendas
in the region.
The Horn of Africa region has experienced a substantial increase in
the number and size of foreign military deployments since 2001,
especially in the past decade, SIPRI said. The most visible aspect of
this presence is the proliferation of military facilities in littoral
areas along the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa. However, there has also
been a build-up of naval forces, notably around the Bab el-Mandeb
Strait, at the entrance to the Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden.
China is one of the nations singled out by SIPRI as rapidly expanding
its presence in the Horn of Africa, especially from 2008 when it
launched an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. China has since
maintained a continuous naval anti-piracy presence in the Horn of
Africa, dispatching its 32nd mission to the Gulf of Aden in April 2019.
During 2008–18, the Chinese Navy deployed 26 000 personnel to the region
and undertook a variety of maritime security operations.
Between 2009–13 the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deployment
to the Gulf of Aden came to rely on logistics support from the port of
Djibouti. The importance of dedicated regional logistics was highlighted
for China in 2011, when its military and civilian air and maritime
assets evacuated about 35 000 Chinese nationals from Libya. Djibouti
played an even more important role in the protection of China’s citizens
abroad in 2015, when the PLAN evacuated around 800 Chinese and other
foreign nationals from Yemen, taking them by naval frigate to Djibouti.
In recent years, China has also deployed peacekeepers to
Africa—mostly to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS),
where it maintains about 1000 Chinese troops, but also to missions in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mali and Sudan.
In August 2017, China established a PLAN base in Djibouti. The
facility is officially termed a logistics support base and justified as
supporting China’s commitments to international anti-piracy,
peacekeeping and other operations, as well as protecting its growing
overseas assets and evacuating Chinese citizens in crisis situations. It
has also been called ‘a strategic strong point’ by Chinese policymakers
and experts, denoting a forward presence designed to support the
ability of the Chinese military for long-range force projection,
including as part of a network of such strategic points.
China’s military base is Djibouti has barracks, a paved area and
eight hangars for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and
naval facilities. Since the base opened, expansion has continued with
the construction of a 450-metre pier that can accommodate naval
flotillas, including large warships. China began to conduct live fire
exercises soon after the base opened. It is estimated that the base has
the capacity to accommodate several thousand troops. Currently, a marine
company with armoured vehicles is reportedly stationed there.
The base is notably seen as part of an increasing Chinese presence in
the Indian Ocean through the construction of a network of military and
commercial facilities—the so-called String of Pearls—in order to
SIPRI notes that France has had a military presence in Djibouti since
the establishment of a French protectorate there in 1883–87. After
Djibouti achieved independence in 1977, France retained several military
facilities and a military garrison. The French Forces in Djibouti
(Forces françaises stationnées à Djibouti, FFDJ) is the largest
permanent contingent of French forces in Africa.
A defence cooperation treaty, which France and Djibouti concluded in
December 2011, entered into force on 1 May 2014. The security clauses of
the treaty reaffirm France’s commitment to the independence and
territorial integrity of the Republic of Djibouti. The treaty also sets
out the operational facilities granted to French forces stationed in the
Since independence the number of French troops in Djibouti has
declined from 4300 in 1978, to 2400 in the 2000s, to the current level
of 1450—the minimum stipulated in the 2011 treaty. French forces are
deployed at several sites in Djibouti city, including Djibouti–Ambouli
International Airport, a naval base, and Chabelley Airport outside the
capital. The naval base plays an important logistical role in supporting
French and allied navies in the region and is strategically important
for France’s ability to send its nuclear attack submarines into the
Indian Ocean. The cost of the annual lease on these military facilities
is reported to be $36 million.
The garrison is equipped with helicopters and a squadron of Mirage
combat jets, as well as heavy equipment to support infantry units. In
2014, France stationed a special forces detachment in Djibouti.
The French base hosts Spanish and German detachments and the
logistical support staff involved in the EU’s anti-piracy mission, EU
Naval Force Atalanta (EUNAVFOR, Operation Atalanta).
France maintains permanent military forces in the French overseas
territories in the Indian Ocean: at Port des Galets on Réunion and
Dzaoudzi on Mayotte. The forces consist of 1600 military personnel, two
frigates and smaller naval vessels, aircraft, and army units.
France established a permanent military presence in the United Arab
Emirates (UAE) on 26 May 2009. There are 650 military personnel deployed
at the Al Dhafra Air Base and at naval and army bases in the UAE. The
command is responsible for naval vessels operating in the Gulf and the
German personnel are based in the French facilities in Djibouti.
Germany has been involved militarily in the Horn of Africa region since
2001, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Germany also participates
in the EU’s Operation Atalanta and maintains a contingent of 30–80
people to support its vessels. Since 2008, Germany has provided maritime
patrol and reconnaissance aircraft (P-3C Orion) via a series of
deployments to support Operation Atalanta.
As a result of China’s increased naval presence in the Indian Ocean,
the Indian Navy has three continuous deployments in the western Indian
Ocean: (a) an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden; (b) a Gulf
mission, which patrols the northern Indian Ocean and the entrance to the
Gulf (Strait of Hormuz); and (c) a mission focused on the Seychelles,
Madagascar, Mauritius and the southern Indian Ocean.
Starting in 2007 with the establishment of a naval monitoring base in
northern Madagascar, India has sought to establish a network of
military facilities across the India Ocean to protect the country’s sea
lanes of commerce from piracy, and to counter China’s rising military
presence in the region. India has announced plans to establish a network
of 32 coastal radar surveillance stations to provide maritime domain
awareness, with sites in the Seychelles, Mauritius, the Maldives and Sri
Lanka. In 2015, India established a coastal radar system on the
In 2018, the Indian Prime Minister and the Seychellois President
announced that they would continue to cooperate on developing a naval
base on Assumption Island and India agreed to make a $100 million line
of credit available to the Seychelles to purchase military equipment,
and to donate a maritime patrol aircraft to the Seychellois military. In
2018, it was confirmed that India will construct military facilities on
the Mauritian archipelago of Agalega, consisting of an extended runway
and new port facilities.
In 2009, Japan committed navy ships and aircraft to anti-piracy
operations in the Gulf of Aden. The aircraft operated from the US base
at Camp Lemonnier at Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport. In 2011,
the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) established a military base in
Djibouti to support Japan’s commitment to international efforts to
counter piracy—the JSDF’s first permanent overseas military base since
the end of World War II.
Since 2011, Japan has stationed a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
destroyer and two P-3C maritime reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft
at the base to conduct anti-piracy missions. The base was used to
support Japanese participation in UNMISS in 2012–17. Japan’s move to
expand the role and scale of the Djibouti base is seen as part of its
efforts to balance China’s growing influence in Africa.
In 2018, plans were announced to further broaden the mission of the
JSDF in Djibouti, which will become an operational centre for JSDF
troops in the Horn of Africa region, with additional military
capabilities at the base.
In 2009 Turkey joined CTF 151, the multinational counter-piracy task
force off the Somali coast. In the context of contributing to
international efforts to resolve the Somali conflict, Turkey opened a
military base in Mogadishu on 30 September 2017 to train recruits for
the Somali National Army. Turkey regards it as a military training camp
rather than a military base. Spread over 4 km2 and reported to have cost
$50 million to construct, it can accommodate 1500 trainees at a time.
More than 200 Turkish military personnel are reported to be stationed at
the base, which is Turkey’s largest overseas military facility. Turkey
is also providing Somalia with training support and equipment to
establish the country’s navy and coastguard.
In 2014, Turkey and Qatar agreed to the creation of Turkey’s first
military base in the Middle East. The base is reported to have a planned
capacity of 5000 troops. Following the move by Saudi Arabia and its
allies in the GCC to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on 5 June 2017,
Turkey indicated that it would send up to 3000 troops to its military
base there. In March 2018, Turkey and Qatar signed an agreement to
establish a naval base in northern Qatar.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a military base in Assab, Eritrea.
Development of the base began around September 2015. The facility
comprises a military airfield with new aircraft shelters, a deepwater
naval port, which was constructed following the UAE takeover of the
base, and buildings for storage and housing. The UAE has deployed
aircraft to Eritrea for use against opposition forces in Yemen. These
include Mirage 2000-9 and F-16 combat aircraft, helicopters, military
transport and maritime patrol aircraft, and UAVs. In addition, a large
ground contingent is reported to have been operating from the base,
consisting of a battalion-size force equipped with Leclerc battle tanks.
In 2015, three battalions of Sudanese mechanized troops were reportedly
transported from the base in Assab to Yemen on UAE vessels.
In 2016, the UN said the transfer of military materiel to Eritrea was a violation of the international arms embargo on Eritrea.
UAE forces have also used the Assab base to train and equip thousands
of Yemeni counterterrorism personnel. Human Rights Watch has documented
reports that the UAE base in Assab is part of a network of detention
centres linked to the conflict in Yemen in which torture has been
In 2016, the UAE was granted a lease to develop the military airport
at Berbera on the coast of Somaliland, which had been built by the
Soviet Union. When complete in 2019, the combined base will comprise an
integrated 42 square kilometre facility with two parallel runways and a
deepwater naval base, at a reported cost of $90 million.
The UAE is reportedly training the Somaliland coastguard, police and
security services as part of the base agreement. The UAE has also been
providing security assistance and training to the Puntland Maritime
At the end of April 2016, the UAE began to build up its military
forces on Socotra, located close to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, as a part
of its support for the Yemeni Government in the civil war. The UAE
deployed armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and 100 soldiers. Following
local protests, the UAE withdrew its forces under a deal arranged by
Saudi Arabia, but some troops are believed to have remained.
The United Kingdom
The UK maintains a small number of military personnel at Camp
Lemonnier, in order to liaise with the US forces in the Horn of Africa.
British Special Forces have also been sent to Djibouti to counter
threats from Yemen to shipping transiting the Bab el-Mandeb Strait,
alongside the deployment of Royal Navy warships.
The UK maintains a number of military sites in Kenya, most notably
the British Army Training Unit Kenya in Nanyuki, which operates under
long-standing cooperative security agreements. Around 400 British
military personnel are based in Kenya, with up 10 000 participating in
exercises over the course of a year. The UK also supports the
British–Kenya Mine Action Training Centre and the International Peace
Support Training Centre, and contributes 300 soldiers to UNMISS.
Since January 2017, the British Security Training Centre in Somalia
has provided training for Somali National Army troops within the
UN-mandated African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The UK training
operation comprises 85 military personnel and is spread across two
military bases, one near Baydhabo (Baidoa) and the other in Mogadishu.
The UK established new military facilities in Oman in 2018. The Joint
Logistics Support Base at the port of Duqm provides logistics support
for the Royal Navy in the region, including for submarines and aircraft
carriers. A new Omani–British military training facility in Duqm is due
to open in 2019.
In 2018, the UK opened a naval base in Bahrain. From 2019 onwards,
the UK will have ‘an enduring presence’ in the Gulf in the form of a
frigate permanently deployed to the region, in addition to its existing
commitment of minehunters. Together, the new commitments in Bahrain and
Oman are designed to increase British military capacity in the Gulf and
the wider Indian Ocean. The UK also operates from the Al Udeid Air Base
in Qatar, integrated with US-led coalition air forces.
The United States
The USA increased its efforts to counter violent extremism,
especially Islamist extremism, in the Horn of Africa following the
September 2001 attacks. Operation Enduring Freedom-Horn of Africa
(OEF-HOA) was launched in October 2002 as a military mission both to
counter militant Islamism and piracy.
The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) was
established at the same time as OEF-HOA to carry out the operations
aims. The official CJTF-HOA area of responsibility comprises Djibouti,
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Seychelles, Somalia and Sudan. Outside
this area, the CJTF-HOA has also conducted operations in the Comoros,
Liberia, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. In February 2007, US
President George W. Bush announced the establishment of the United
States Africa Command (AFRICOM), headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. On
1 October 2008, responsibility for the CJTF-HOA was transferred from
the United States Central Command to AFRICOM, when the latter assumed
authority over the US forces in the region.
In 2001, the Government of Djibouti leased Camp Lemonnier to the USA,
which became a US naval expeditionary base. The CJTF-HOA moved to
Djibouti on 13 May 2003. Camp Lemonnier also became the only permanent
US military base in Africa, although numerous semi-permanent facilities
exist. In January 2007, as part of the plan to establish Camp Lemonnier
as a permanent facility, it was announced that the base would be
expanded from 97 acres (39 hectares) to nearly 500 acres (202 hectares).
In 2012, the US Department of Defense initiated a $14 billion plan to
develop the base. The administration of US President Barack Obama also
entered into a 30 year lease for Camp Lemonnier in 2014, at an annual
cost of $63 million. In October 2018, as part of the long-term
development of the base, the US military announced contracts worth $240
million to expand base facilities and provide infrastructure to support
the US Air Force’s largest cargo jets.
The CJTF-HOA officially consists of around 2000 US military service
members as well as personnel from allied countries. In 2017, it was
reported that up to 4000 military personnel were temporarily based in
Djibouti. The base has housed a broad range of US ground, air and naval
units over the years. For example, in October 2011, a US Air Force
squadron of F-15Es was deployed to the base. Later, in 2016, F-16 combat
planes and air tankers were deployed to Camp Lemonnier as fighting
intensified in South Sudan and Yemen.
Camp Lemonnier is the centrepiece of a network of US drone and
surveillance bases stretching across the continent, and serves as a hub
for aerial operations in the Gulf. In addition, US special forces
operate across the region, including from ‘forward operating locations’
in Kenya and Somalia—military facilities with small numbers of permanent
US military personnel or contractors and prepositioned equipment, but
which can quickly be scaled up for sustained operations.
Since 2013, the USA has operated UAVs from the French military
airfield at Chabelley Airport. At the end of 2018, the US facilities in
Djibouti hosted military exercises by a US naval amphibious group.
The USA has operated a number of military installations in Ethiopia
since 2003, principally as part of OEF-HOA. Installations have included
short-term forward operating locations and sites for launching UAV and
surveillance operations across the Horn and East Africa. For example,
the US military has used an airbase in Arba Minch, some 400 km south of
the capital, Addis Ababa, to launch drones. This installation closed at
the end of 2015. Prior to its closure, the USA had been building new
facilities to house 130 personnel at the site. The US military has also
conducted military training for Ethiopian forces at the Hurso Training
Academy while based at Camp Gilbert in eastern Ethiopia, near the town
of Dire Dawa.
As early as 2004, US forces were reported to be operating from a
forward operating location at Camp Simba in Manda Bay on the Kenyan
coast. By 2012, the base had been considerably upgraded and the runway
extended. The base hosts on average 200–250 personnel, and reportedly
more than 500 during surges. A 2010 US Government Accountability Office
report indicated that the USA was maintaining a forward operating base
in Isiolo, Kenya. A 2015 AFRICOM statement identified two ‘cooperative
security locations’, one at Kenya’s Laikipia Air Base and one at an
airfield at Wajir in north-eastern Kenya—these are host nation
facilities with few or no permanent US military personnel but with
prepositioned equipment and logistics supplies, which are used for
training and are available for contingency operations. It was also
reported in 2015 that the US military had access to facilities at an
airport and a seaport in Mombasa.
The USA has operated military drones from Seychelles International Airport on Mahé Island since 2009.
The USA has been building up its military presence in Somalia since
2006. In 2015, it was reported to be operating drones and conducting
counterterrorism missions from a base at Kismayo Airport. At the end of
2017, there were 500 US military personnel based in Somalia. A
particular focus since 2017 has been the development of Camp Baledogle,
located at a former Soviet Union airbase in the Lower Shabelle region of
southern Somalia. The base facilities and capabilities have been
updated, including a $12 million upgrade to the runway. Work at the camp
is due to be completed in 2019. In 2018, it was reported that six
additional military sites were being prepared in Somalia.
The build-up of US forces in Somalia has occurred as attacks against
the Islamist group al-Shabab have increased significantly. Camp
Baledogle is reportedly the site from which many of these attacks have
been launched, alongside ad hoc facilities in Somalia and additional
sites in Djibouti. Camp Baledogle is also used to train Somalia’s
The USA maintains substantial military forces in the Gulf region.
Bahrain is the location of two US airbases and the US Naval Forces
Central Command, and the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet. The Fifth
Fleet manages maritime operations on the Indian Ocean side of the Middle
East as well as around the Horn. Kuwait hosts an estimated 15 000 US
personnel at an airbase and three military camps. In Oman, the USA has
access to four airfields with prepositioned stores and equipment, and
has facilities at two ports. Qatar hosts around 10 000 US service
personnel, primarily at Al Udeid Air Base, the biggest US base in the
Middle East, as well as at a military camp. In the UAE, the USA
maintains 5000 personnel at Al Dhafra Air Base and at two ports (notably
the port of Jebel Ali). In March 2019, the USA reached an agreement
with Oman on access for the US navy to the ports of Salah and Duqm, and
for the air force to various airbases in the country.
Other nations identified by SIPRI as having a military interest or
presence in the Horn of Africa include Iran (since 2008 Iran has sent
warships to the Gulf of Aden to combat Somali pirates), Israel (which
has intelligence gathering teams in the region), Italy (its National
Support Military Base next to Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport
supports naval activity, notably Operation Atalanta), South Korea (since
2009 South Korea has taken part in anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of
Africa and has deployed peacekeepers to South Sudan), Russia
(anti-piracy patrols off the Horn since 2008 and a logics centre will be
built in an Eritrean port), Saudi Arabia (armed forces have been based
in Djibouti, and other facilities in the region), and Spain (some 50
personnel are based at French facilities in Djibouti to support
Operation Atalanta, with maritime patrol aircraft deployed since 2008).