US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concluded a two-day, first-ever tour of the Horn of Africa Wednesday, visiting the tiny-but-strategically-positioned nation, Djibouti.
Mr. Rumsfeld's three-and-a-half hour scheduled visit to Djibouti came as multinational maritime forces patrolling the waters around the Horn of Africa intercepted a ship carrying a dozen Scud-type missiles from North Korea.
Mr. Rumsfeld had no immediate comment on the intercept. But, as he traveled to the Horn, before the missile seizure was announced, he acknowledged the importance of these patrols to the fight against terrorism.
He noted navy ships from various nations are involved in maritime operations around Yemen and Horn. He specifically said suspicious vessels were being regularly intercepted. As he put it, "Sometimes those ships are then taken, and their illicit cargo is disposed of in ways other than they originally intended."
U.S. officials have said they believed the Scuds may have been headed to Yemen, a nation where terrorists including members of al-Qaida are believed to have taken shelter. It was in the Yemeni port, Aden, in October, 2000, that terrorist bombers attacked the U.S. destroyer Cole, killing 17 American sailors.
Most of the coordination of U.S. and coalition anti-terrorist operations is taking place from Djibouti, across the strait from Yemen. The Pentagon has established a special Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa that is based in Djibouti.
During his visit there Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld was being briefed on coalition operations and meeting U.S. troops at Camp Lemonier. He also held talks with Djibouti's leaders.
The Rumsfeld visit to Djibouti follows earlier stops in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The U.S. defense secretary reaffirmed the Bush administration's commitment to forming long-term partnerships with those countries, to fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa. However, no new deals were announced on a possible expansion of the U.S. military presence in the region to include bases in either Eritrea or Ethiopia.