WASHINGTON: For the first time, an important United States military base, one where a great deal of highly classified communications, intelligence and operations occur, sits within a few miles of a military competitor, China.
Where? Djibouti, the tiny African state that sits on the Horn of Africa across from Yemen and sits astride the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. It is one of the world’s most strategic locations. The US base there supports highly classified operations by Joint Special Operations Command, especially in and around Somalia, as well as a host of intelligence and support functions for US and allied forces throughout the region.
The Chinese haven’t called their still unfinished site a military base, instead calling it a “logistical support” facility to help supply the PLA Navy’s anti-piracy efforts. The head of Africa Command (AFRICOM), Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, put paid to China’s soft-pedaling of the base’s nature this morning when he told me that the facility is, simply, a “military base.” He also said the base should be completed this summer.
I asked Waldhauser if the US is concerned about the proximity of the Chinese base — the first foreign military base the country known as China has had in its long history.
“We’ve never had a base of, let’s just say a peer competitor, as close as this one happens to be. so there’s a lot of learning going on, a lot of growing going on. Yes, there are some very significant operational security concerns, and I think that our base there is significant to us because it’s not only AFRICOM that utilizes” Djibouti, he said, noting it’s also used by CENTCOM, Special Operations Command and EUCOM. Some U.S. allies also use the base when they operate with the US military.
Waldhauser said the U.S. “has spoken to the Djiboutian government about it and they know what our concerns are.”
Meanwhile, the military bases China is building on the three main fake islands in the South China Sea are “nearly complete,” according to the folks who monitor them at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Major construction of military and dual-use infrastructure on the “Big 3”—Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross Reefs—is wrapping up, with the naval, air, radar, and defensive facilities that AMTI has tracked for nearly two years largely complete,” the AMTI said in a release this afternoon. The result: “Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time.” That will make no one in the region happy, except China.