Presidents Barack Obama and Omar Guelleh signed a new lease agreement yesterday in the Oval Office to extend operations of the largest United States military base in North Africa for up to at least ten more years.
Most of the details were not disclosed. But the deal suggests that U.S. operations in the region’s war on terror are likely to increase following the negotiation on Camp Lemonier, located south of Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport.
The lease extension to the Bush era military base includes a $63 million annual service fee with the option to extend the new lease for up to an additional ten years, up by more than two-fold from the previous five-year $30 million annual deal.
Since 2001, Camp Lemonier has expanded from a few hundred special operation soldiers to a full-fledged 4,000 manned military base. As headquarters to USAFRICOM, the base has grown from 88 to nearly 500 acres in order to accommodate a broader logistical mission for several surveillance and drone outposts throughout the continent.
Camp Lemonier has served to support Djibouti military incursions into Yemen, South Sudan, Libya, Ivory Coast, Somalia, and Central African Republic, as well as to increase U.S. influence over maritime locations in North Africa including important ports and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait of the Red Sea.
“Obviously, Camp Lemonier is extraordinarily important not only to our work throughout the Horn of Africa but throughout the region,” Obama said in a press conference yesterday.
“Our relation is a relation of strategic partnership,” President Guelleh told reporters. “The fact that we welcome US forces in our country shows our support for international peace and for peace in our region as well.”
Yesterday’s remarks from the two leaders show how much diplomatic progress has been made since last year’s relocation of a U.S. fleet of drones. The drones were relocated due to fears in Djibouti that the unmanned aerial vehicles might collide with commercial flights after several drones had crashed.
Allegations of prisoner torture and black site rendition have entangled Camp Lemonier in possible human rights violations. In 2009, after Obama unveiled of a new policy that eliminated the sanction of “black site” facilities around the world, the human rights group Reprieve, as well as U.S. congressional investigations, revealed personal testimony indicating that Camp Lemonier functioned as a secret prison and interrogation center.
Notwithstanding Obama’s pledge to discontinue the policy of black site rendition, the war on terror is seen to have taken a fast track as the Pentagon plans to expand military facilities in Djibouti with $1 billion in construction projects.