The Voice of America has learned U.S. troops and equipment have been transiting through Djibouti on their way to Kuwait, where they could be used in a new war with Iraq. The move appears to violate Djibouti's stated policy on U.S. use of its territory.
Until now, defense officials have maintained U.S. military personnel deployed in Djibouti are engaged in operations and training related to the war on terrorism. That is in line with the publicly-stated position of authorities in Djibouti, who have said the Americans do not have permission to use their territory for a possible attack on Iraq.
But a U.S. Army spokesman, responding to a VOA inquiry, has revealed a significant number of American ground forces in Djibouti, about 450 Army troops plus 50 civilian defense workers, have effectively been operating a forward staging base for soldiers and military equipment heading to Kuwait.
The spokesman says the so-called "reception, staging, onward movement, and integration" [RSOI] activities in Djibouti have been in support of operation "Desert Spring".
"Desert Spring" is an on-going operation established after the 1991 Gulf War and intended to assure what Pentagon officials characterize as "the defense of Kuwait."
According to the Army spokesman, the reception activities were previously carried out in Kuwait. But he said that for the past six months, Djibouti has been used because it provides advanced training opportunities for the Army's combat service support personnel not available in Kuwait.
He said using Djibouti as a forward staging area has given the Army the chance to practice moving troops and equipment into potential battle zones using both sea and air routes.
The spokesman confirms that U.S. troops have been flown into Djibouti and then moved on to Kuwait. He said military cargo has also been handled, with some equipment and supplies brought in by plane and then transferred to ships for the final journey to Kuwait.
The Army spokesman estimates that about two brigades worth of equipment and troops have been moved through Djibouti, half heading to Kuwait and half back to the United States. According to the Army, that would be between six to 10,000 soldiers.
Asked about the Army spokesman's revelations, other Pentagon officials at first claimed no knowledge of the Kuwait connection operating out of Djibouti. Later they sought to downplay the significance of the operation.
In the past, Pentagon officials have been reluctant to share any details of the mission of the several hundred Army troops in Djibouti. Virtually the only known detail was that some of the Army troops are Special Operations soldiers involved directly in anti-terror activities.
The military is now establishing a special Joint Task Force Horn of Africa for the war on terrorism that will be headquartered in Djibouti. The task force will be led by a U.S. Marine Corps General. Thousands of Marines aboard amphibious vessels have been exercising in the Horn region, including Djibouti.