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Djibouti

Djibouti began cooperating in the US-led war against terrorism shortly after the events of 11 September 2001, and several hundred American troops were subsequently stationed at Camp Le Monier (also referred to initially as Le Monier barracks), beginning in April 2002. On 19 September 2002, US military officials said 800 special-operations troops had moved to Djibouti, where they could be used to hunt for al-Qaida terrorists in nearby Yemen. Military Police personnel were also known to be deployed in Djibouti, although Pentagon officials stressed police deployments were routine for security purposes during foreign deployments. Dispatching the troops to Djbouti, and also sending a ship to the region with 2,000, US officials said they had no specific intelligence on any al-Qaida terrorists in Yemen or anywhere else in the region as of 2002.

US naval vessels and aircraft used Djibouti's facilities, and the 2 countries perform joint military exercises. US military and economic aid was $7 million in 2000. This included $2.7 million in emergency food aid, $2 million to start a humanitarian demining program, and $100,000 for self-help, democracy and human rights. The country retained close relations with France and other Western nations, as well as with Islamic states. In addition to the US precense, Djibouti was also home to France's largest foreign military base as of 2002. Djibouti was host to several thousand French military personnel, including the 13e Démi-Brigade de la Légion Étrangère (13e DBLE - 13th Half-Brigade of the Foreign Legion).

Djibouti was a major, well-equipped, international port, whose management had been recently turned over to a Dubai-based company. Ethiopia, a landlocked country, was the main user of the port. Fairly good roads linked all the small towns to the capital city of Djibouti. The infrastructure still needed much improvement, as paved roads still were not extensive by the early 2000s. Djibouti had an international airport, which could handle large aircraft such as the Boeing 747.

From 1991 to 2000, the Djiboutian government fought a civil war against Afar rebels of the FRUD (Front for the Restoration of the Democratic Unity). In 1996 and 1997, Yemen expressed an interest to improve relationships with the United States. The Navy was looking for another port at that time, partially because of the unsatisfactory conditions that existed in Djibouti. The US Navy had been in Djibouti for refueling, and was interested in terminating that contract because at that time in Djibouti the threat conditions were far worse. The port was extremely busy, with many small boats, and the conditions ashore and in the government were not satisfactory. Peace treaties were signed with different factions of the FRUD in 1994 and February 2000, bringing an end to the guerilla war.

The Republic of Djibouti is a small country (8,250 square miles - about the size of Massachusetts), located at the juncture of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Following independence from France in 1977, Djibouti pursued a moderate foreign policy. Djibouti's population of approximately 600,000 was predominantly Muslim and mainly of Somali or Afar origin. The main languages were French and Somali, and little English was spoken. There was a small but influential Arab population, mainly from Yemen, and a European community of approximately 10,000, primarily French.

Lacking natural resources, Djibouti's economy was service-based, with the country's seaport and a railroad linking it to Addis Ababa accounting for the bulk of economic activity. Djibouti had a coastline of 314 kilometers and the Red Sea was known to be very rich in fish. Traditional fishing was still used and provides jobs for up to 1,000 Djiboutians as of the early 2000s. A new fishing port, inaugurated in 1999, was designed to boost this sector and attract more extensive and modern fishing techniques.

According to a November 2002 VOA news report, about 450 Army troops plus 50 civilian defense workers were reportedly operating a forward staging base for soldiers and military equipment heading to Kuwait in support of Operation Desert Spring. This task had previously been carried out in Kuwait, but Djibouti had become the site of choice, as a result of the training opportunities it provided to the Army's combat service support personnel and in moving troops and equipment into potential battle zones using both naval and aerial routes. According to the news report, an estimated 2 brigades worth of equipment and troops had moved through Djibouti, with half of it transiting to Kuwait and the other half transiting back to the United States.




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