CNY Central News 9 February 2016
Brandon sat down with the Commander of U.S. Forces in Africa to talk about their mission and some of the challenges the country faces.
The former French colony of less than a million people is one of the oldest port cities in East Africa. It is also one of the poorest, but thanks to the country’s strategic location, it is starting to get the attention of the U.S. and other countries who are now working to stabilize the region.
Djibouti is a land of contradictions. Visitors will see much sorrow and much joy, modern technology and ancient culture — All in a tiny East African nation that happens to sit in a very dangerous part of the world.
It is so dangerous, in fact, that the U.S. has decided to create a base there. The base known as Camp Lemmonier is home to more than 4,000 U.S. troops.
General William West, Commander of U.S. Forces in the horn of Africa, says Djibouti’s location provides U.S. forces with an ideal location to launch counter-terrorism strikes against a growing number of violent Islamic extremist groups in Africa.
“While we are in East Africa, the focus is on Al Shabob. When you get out to Central Africa, you have Boko Haram, which has declared an alliance with ISIL. When you go up to the North, you are starting to see ISIL presence up in Libya. When you go way out west, you have Al Qaeda,” Brig. Gen. William West said.
U.S. forces also patrol the waters off the coast of Djibouti where they protect U.S. and other ships from terrorist attacks and pirates. The patrols are crucial to U.S. security since the Port of Djibouti serves as the gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
“A lot of shipping and commerce goes through here for the world, so, there’s many nations that have an interest in keeping that open. It’s not just the United States here. The European Union has a force and a presence here and they are also trying to keep the straits and commerce open,” he said.
Poverty is still a major issue in the country with a quarter of Djibouti’s population living on less than $2 a day.
The U.S. and other countries are working to improve the quality of life here. But there is only so much they can do. Unemployment in the nation remains stubbornly high and life expectancy is low.
While Djibouti’s economy is on the rise, for many Djiboutians, life in this country continues to be a struggle.
“It’s a tough life for them when they leave the school yard. They’re living on the streets, sleeping on the streets. Many of them don’t have parents,” Cmdr. Chuck Williams said.
So, what does the future hold for Djibouti? Well, the United States has just signed a 20-year lease to keep its base at Camp Lemmonier operating for decades, so the relationship between the United States and this country looks to be a long one.
A local Army Reserve unit from Mattydale is among the troops serving in Africa. We will be bringing you more on their story throughout the week.