Washington, DC — The number of United States troops in Djibouti may soon number more than 2,000 with the announcement, Tuesday, by General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, that another 700-800 are to be sent to the strategically-placed nation on the Horn of Africa.
In his remarks at a Pentagon press briefing largely devoted to Iraq, General Franks suggested that the incoming troops will be Marines. "It seems to make sense to us to put this capability - Marine capability - in the vicinity of Djibouti to work with countries in the Horn of Africa."
Most of the troops are based in the coastal town of Obock near the Gulf Of Tadjora.
A U.S. amphibious assault ship carrying attack helicopters has also been sent into the area. And in addition to Marines, U.S. Special Forces units,and Navy Seals are also present in Djibouti, say some sources close to the government there.
Franks, a four-star army general, is widely considered to be first in line to run a U.S. "pre-emptive" military campaign against Iraq, and will soon oversee establishment of a new "deployable" command post at al-Udeid air base in Qatar. "You don't train in Obok for three months in 110 degree temperature if it isn't going to be for Iraq," said one analyst close to the Djibouti government.
The government of Djibouti denies that its territory will be used in this way. Speaking for the government, the Minister of Communications and Culture, Rifki Abdouldaker Bamakhrama, last month said U.S. newspaper reports that U.S. forces stationed in Djibouti were preparing for an attack on Iraq were "unfounded". "Djibouti was "opposed to any action of the kind," he said.
Yemen, just 50 kilometers across the Red Sea strait of Djibouti, and high on the administration's list of places they believe al-Quaeda terrorist units have found sanctuary, seems a likelier and more immediate target than Iraq.
The London Financial Times reported last month that at least two unilateral actions by these Djibouti-based forces against suspected terrorists in Yemen almost took place in August or September. They were aborted at the last minute because of insufficient intelligence.
In a comment that seemed to be directed at the Yemen government, Franks said that U.S. troops in Djibouti were part of the global war on terrorism, and while there were friendly nations the U.S. wanted to work with, "it may be necessary from time to time to coerce others to get rid of the terrorist problem."