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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 13:21 GMT
US beefs up Horn anti-terror base
US marines
The marines will initially be based on a warship
US defence officials have announced that they will be sending an extra 400 elite troops to the US base in the Horn of Africa to help in the hunt for suspected terrorists.


The Horn of Africa turns out to be a fairly busy place in terms of the flow of people and other instruments of war

US Gen. Richard Meyers

They will join 800 troops, including special operations forces, who have already been stationed at a military headquarters in Djibouti for several months.

The military HQ could also free up other military commanders to concentrate on planning for possible military action against Iraq.

The 400 marines will set up the command centre in Djibouti.

Amphibious

It will initially operate from a Navy ship in the Red Sea, the amphibious USS Mount Whitney, for the 60 to 90 days which will probably be necessary to build a command post ashore.

The ship will leave its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, on 12 November, with a crew of 560, but it is unclear whether all the Marines will be on board next week.

More marines could be added later, according to the Associated Press news agency.

USS Princeton and helicopter
The base will start off at sea

The 800 troops already in Djibouti will be folded into the new Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, along with forces expected to be contributed by coalition partners, Marine Major Steve Cox, the new unit's spokesman, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"The Horn of Africa turns out to be a fairly busy place in terms of the flow of people and other instruments of war - weapons, explosives, perhaps weapons of mass destruction," General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The top US commander, General Tommy Franks, pointed out last week that the US had "security relationships and engagement opportunities" in countries such as Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen.

Yemen is of particular interest for US defence officials.

On Sunday, six alleged members of al-Qaeda, including the organisation's top operative, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, were killed in Yemen, reportedly by an unmanned CIA-operated aircraft.

Regional command

There has also been much speculation that al-Qaeda operatives could regroup in Somalia.

The transitional government in Somalis has promised to cooperate with the US war on terror.

Pentagon officials have said the headquarters could free up other commanders to spend more time on planning and preparation for a possible military showdown with Iraq.

The Americans could eventually have three regional headquarters, each with its own responsibilities.

As well as the new command centre in the Horn of Africa, there is one at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, and there could be a third in the Gulf.

A major command post exercise begins in Qatar in the next few weeks, and the Pentagon has left open the possibility that equipment and military staff could stay on there after the exercise is over.

Djibouti, because of its geographical location, is a strategic point in the region.

The small, mostly-deserted country of 600,000, has long been used as a military base by the former colonial power, France.

France has more than 2,000 troops based there, there are about 1,000 Germans, and a number of British forces.

Other US troops are stationed aboard navy ships in the Red Sea.


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See also:

03 Nov 02 | Africa
29 Jun 02 | Country profiles
21 Dec 01 | Africa
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