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SLUG: 2-294298 Pentagon / Djibouti (L)

DATE= 9/20/02







INTRO: Pentagon sources are hinting that U-S forces in and around the tiny but strategically-positioned Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti may soon be moving on. V-O-A Pentagon Correspondent Alex Belida reports the troops were originally deployed to Djibouti for possible anti-terrorist operations in nearby Yemen as well as Somalia.

TEXT: It was only this past week that the Pentagon finally confirmed that U-S forces were being allowed to use a base in Djibouti and that a U-S amphibious assault ship was stationed in the Red Sea off the coast of the small country.

But a senior Defense official now hints those forces -- some 800 Special Operations troops on the ground plus close to two-thousand Marines at sea -- may soon be moving on.

This official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicates the ground forces are likely to go to Jordan and the Marines to Kuwait to take part in joint exercises previously scheduled in those countries for later this year.

The presence of U-S forces in Djibouti had been kept quiet by the Pentagon, even though a top official of Djibouti's government (acting Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali) is quoted as saying the Americans have been in the country for about five months.

The Pentagon will still not confirm when the troops arrived although it has acknowledged they were positioned in Djibouti where a spokesman says they were free to move throughout the region to pursue the war on terrorism.

But officials privately admit the troops have had no hard intelligence information that would enable them to move against suspected al-Qaida terrorists --- even though some al-Qaida are believed to have taken shelter in both nearby Yemen and Somalia.


Yemen has long been a country of particular concern to the United States because of its links to terrorism. A U-S destroyer, the U-S-S Cole, was bombed in the port city of Aden two years ago during a refueling stop. Seventeen American sailors were killed.

Although the Pentagon has conducted a small training operation in Yemen, top defense officials say the country's cooperation in the war on terrorism is still at an early stage.

But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in a recent interview the United States remains hopeful, as he put it, that Yemen will "become more energetic in pursuing some very dangerous people" who he said the United States knows are hiding in remote parts of the country. (Signed)


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