Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China’s First Overseas Military Base at Djibouti Stokes US Suspicion

Chinese toehold

(Photo : US Army) Surveillance photos of China's naval base in Djibouti. (Left) Before construction. (Right) Military facilities almost completed.

The United States will take measures to strengthen the protection of Camp Lemonnier, its vital military base in the Republic of Djibouti, once China's new naval base only 13 kilometers away becomes operational in the next few months.

China's first overseas naval base and military outpost at the small port town of Obock on the Horn of Africa is on ground originally intended for use by the U.S. Army. The Chinese base on a 364,000 square meter (90 acre) plot houses supply stores; barracks for a small force of Chinese marines or Special Forces; maintenance facilities for aircraft and ships and weapons sites.

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China refers to the Obock naval base as a "support facility" and said it doesn't have plans of building large bases such as those the U.S. military favors. It also denies the base is ratcheting up tensions with the U.S. whose Camp Lemonnier is the largest U.S. military base in Africa.

Camp Lemonnier currently houses over 4,000 U.S. troops and is used for Special Forces and drone operations against jihadist groups in the region. These troops and contractors are assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

Camp Lemonnier is home to Special Operations Command (Forward)-East Africa, which has carried out operations against Al Shabab militants in Somalia and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group in Yemen. Personnel at Camp Lemonnier are involved in highly secretive missions.

The U.S. has increasing security concerns about China's base at Obock, said Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of United States Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM) with headquarters in Germany.

Gen. Waldhauser told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee he expects the Chinese base at Obock to be operational later this summer. He recently he met with Djibouti's President Ismail Omar (who is pro-Chinese) "and expressed our concerns about some of the things that are important to us about what the Chinese should not do at that location."

Gen. Waldhauser said the Chinese base in Djibouti will support China's naval presence in the Horn of Africa. He also revealed China has some 2,200 troops in international peacekeeping operations in Africa.

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