The Battle for Bab-el-Mandeb

US-African-Command declared that the Americans have been making preparations for a military-base in Somalia

Beijing and Washington battle it out for Bab-el-Mandeb

August 31, 2018 (ION) – With the diplomatic and economic tit-for-tat between the US president Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping in full swing, control of the commercial maritime traffic through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait – which accounts for 40% of world trade – has become a crucial issue for these two giants with expansionist pretensions.

China has explicitly included the strait in its One Belt, One Road project, but the United States, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has no intention of being edged out of the region.

In a climate of extreme tension which is shaping up into a clash, both are readying themselves for the fray and developing military infrastructure, especially in Djibouti.

A monopoly on military bases

Although the United States is intending to downsize its counter-terrorism operations in Africa, the head of the US African Command (AFRICOM), Thomas Waldhauser, declared on 1 August in Senegal that the priority was to counter the expansionist ambitions of China and Russia. And so, despite a reduction in their personnel in west and central Africa, the Americans have been making preparations for a military base in Somalia and will shortly be issuing a call for tenders to construct it, according to information obtained exclusively by the Indian Ocean Newsletter. The base in question is in Baledogle (Lower Shabelle), where the Americans are already operating drones to combat the Islamist fundamentalists of Al Shabaab, and it will serve as camp for US troops.

As for Djibouti, the Americans have decided to cast their net out to sea from Camp Lemonnier and are planning to create a facility where several submarines can be stationed.

This follows China’s decision to begin works on a submarine facility extension to their base in Doraleh – they are filling with sand part of the shipping channel of the Doraleh Multi-purpose Port, which is run by the conglomerate China Merchants Group (CMG) in partnership with the Djiboutian government, in order to construct a site with a capacity to house up to five submarines.

To do so, the Chinese have commandeered part of the land on which Eiffage is due to build a seawater desalination plant. Djibouti’s Direction de l’habitat et de l’urbanisme has been informed of this, but seem powerless to oblige the Chinese to respect the land allocation plans.

As a result of the Chinese base encroaching on their land, the French construction company has been forced to revise its pipeline layout, and this also explains why the Chinese soldiers are vigilantly laying down the law in the zone. Tensions have thus ratcheted up a notch between the two nations and skirmishes are becoming more common.

Tensions at their height

After the statement in May by the Pentagon spokesperson Dana White warning the Chinese to desist from blinding American pilots based in Djibouti with lasers, the Indian Ocean Newsletter has learnt that the chief of staff of the Forces armees djiboutiennes (FAD), General Zakaria Cheikh Ibrahim, was forced to intervene in June to avert a clash between American and Chinese troops. The FAD confined the Chinese contingent to quarters at their Doraleh base for forty-eight hours to prevent the situation from escalating out of control.

A few hours earlier, a Chinese military convoy which had deployed without the permission of the Djiboutian authorities came across an American column on a training exercise on the Arta road. The Chinese overtook them, coming dangerously close to grazing them with their armoured vehicles, provoking the anger of the American soldiers.

But given China’s stranglehold on Djiboutian debt, is President Ismail Omar Guelleh really still in a position to resist the will of the Chinese?

How can unrest be avoided in Bab-el-Mandeb?

May 18, 2018 (ION) – The Pentagon spokesperson Dana White seems to have officially re-launched the Sino-American cold war in Djibouti with her comments on 3 May warning the Chinese to cease shining lasers on American pilots in flight. The strategic importance of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait is reflected in the number of military bases in the area, most of which are in Djibouti.

In the face of competition from the budding Chinese silk road, in March the Indians requested Emmanuel Macron to put in a good word on their behalf to Ismail Omar Guelleh so that they can establish a military base there.

The United States, which was unsuccessful in setting up a base in the region of Obock, is campaigning for the zone to be de-militarised – the head of the African affairs bureau at the State Department, Donald Yamamoto, raised the issue with the Eritrean president Issayas Afeworki in discussions between 23 and 25 April.

The president responded by saying that it will not be possible to reach a solution without an accord with the FRUD arme.

This view is shared by Ethiopia, which has expressed its concern to the Djiboutian authorities over the marginalisation of the Afars and the slow progress being made on constructing the port of Tadjoura and the road connecting it to Mekele.

A delegation of Ethiopian generals recently advised IOG, the head of the Forces armees djiboutiennes (FAD) General Zakaria Cheikh Ibrahim, and the director of national security Hassan Said Khaireh (known as Hassan Madobe) to bring peace to the north by negotiating with the FRUD arme.

The Americans, who are aware that this coastline is under the jurisdiction of the sultan of Rahayta, Abdoulkader Daoud, held talks with the rebel movement on this subject a few months back. Having agreed to demilitarisation, the FRUD arme has strengthened its ties with traditional Afar authorities by freeing a number of government agents.

Japan won’t let Bab-el-Mandeb go to the Chinese

January 13, 2017 (ION) – At a symposium on Japan’s defence policy organized by the Institut de Recherche Strategique de l’Ecole Militaire in Paris on Jan. 6, Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada spoke of her country’s intention of to establish a semi-permanent military base in Djibouti.

While she did not mention the Chinese presence in Djibouti, she assured the French military of her ambition to strengthen the Japanese presence there.

Already, in October, Tokyo announced it wanted to extend its existing base (covering 12 hectares with r a staff of 180 soldiers). The Japanese forces are planning to deploy C-130 cargo aircraft from Lockheed Martin , as well as armoured vehicles, but also more soldiers. “China is investing in new infrastructure in Djibouti and is increasing its presence there, so it is necessary for Japan to acquire more influence,” said an official Japanese source.

China ousts Americans from Obock

May 29, 2015 (ION) – Djibouti has officially asked the United States to leave their military installations at Obock. “The Indian Ocean Newsletter” carries out an exclusive investigation.

The Djibouti Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, is everywhere at the same time. While he is still trying to find a way out of the diplomatic crisis with the United Arab Emirates by calling on the services of Saudi Arabia, he also has to deal with American anger following President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh’s announcement on 9 May that negotiations were under way with China for it to set up a naval base in Djibouti.

President IOG was at the American Hospital of Paris for a series of tests, so on 20 May he left his foreign minister with the awkward task of revealing to American diplomats and servicemen that the time had come to prepare for China’s arrival. Mahamoud Ali Youssouf therefore invited the American forces to leave the Obock region where the Chinese will build their naval base.

The Americans had no possibility of contesting the decision since the Djibouti president was unavailable, so they had no choice but to comply. They are currently transporting to Camp Lemonnier all the telecoms and surveillance equipment that they had deployed to carry out close monitoring of the Bab-el-Mandeb straits.

The Indian Ocean Newsletter has learnt from inside sources that the Chinese base should ultimately house 10,000 men, for an annual rent of $100 million. In comparison, the Africom (United States Africa Command) operations centre houses 4,000 servicemen for an annual rent of $63 million.

While Obock does not benefit from Camp Lemonnier’s close access to airport infrastructure, as from 2016 China will be able to use Aéroport Ahmed Dini (officially a civilian airport) that China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) is building not far from the Sept Freres islands. IOG and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to meet in December to officially seal the deal for the Chinese base.

Description of source: Since 1981, the Indian Ocean Newsletter investigates within the power spheres of the Eastern coast of Africa, from Karthoum to Cape Town and the islands. Country of origin: France
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