Pentagon spends in Africa to stem Islamist terrorism

| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 8:51 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has begun a burst of spending in Africa, expanding its main base on the continent and investing in air facilities, flight services, telecommunications and electrical upgrades as the U.S. military deepens its involvement in a region with a rising threat of Islamist terrorism.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures, detailed in unclassified federal documents, demonstrate Africa's increasing importance to U.S. military and counterterrorism operations as the war in Iraq ends and American troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

By far the most significant expansion is occurring at Camp Lemonnier in the deeply impoverished nation of Djibouti, a backwater on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, just north of Somalia. The sprawling base, built out of a onetime outpost of the French Foreign Legion, has been the Pentagon's primary facility in Africa for a decade.

Defense officials last month awarded $200 million in contracts to revamp the base's power plants and build a multistory operations center, aircraft hangar, living quarters, gym and other facilities on a sun-scorched 20-acre site next to the tiny country's only international airport (with which it shares a runway).

The projects are part of $1.2 billion in planned improvements over the next 25 years that will speed Camp Lemonnier's transformation from a makeshift installation where a few hundred Marines once slept in tents into an enduring 600-acre base that now houses about 4,000 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors.

“Africa is front and center now for the Pentagon, so that means Lemonnier is front and center,” said Rudolph Atallah, former counterterrorism director for Africa at the Defense Department and now chief executive of White Mountain Research, a security consulting company.

U.S. officials have been grappling with the threat posed by al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia, Yemen and North Africa.

The Pentagon pays $38 million annually to lease the base from Djibouti.

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