A senior defense official says there are no current plans to increase the U.S. military presence in Africa by opening permanent or even semi-permanent bases. But the Pentagon is likely to seek expanded access to existing military facilities on the continent in case troop deployments are necessary in the future.
An article in The Wall Street Journal newspaper this past week quoted defense officials as saying as part of the Pentagon's post Cold War realignment of forces, the United States could open as many as a dozen semi-permanent bases in Africa. It said this could see an increase in the U.S. military presence across the continent to as many as 6,500 troops from the 1,500 or so now based only in Djibouti.
The article quoted the unnamed Pentagon officials as saying the countries being looked at as the sites for new bases included Algeria, Morocco and possibly Tunisia along with Senegal, Ghana, Mali and Kenya.
But a senior defense official, responding to questions from the Voice of America, says, quoting now, "there are no plans afoot to base or even semi-permanently base troops in Africa."
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says even the presence of U.S. troops on anti-terrorist operations in Djibouti is a temporary phenomenon. The use of Camp Lemonier there is temporary, the official says, and the lease for the facility expires in two years. The official says whether it will be extended will depend on circumstances at the time.
The official concedes the Defense Department has always had an interest in gaining access to military facilities in Africa for use in such emergencies as non-combatant evacuations or crises like those of the past decade in Rwanda and Somalia.
The official says the U.S. military's European Command, which has oversight for most of Africa, currently has a so-called "fuel hubs initiative" with countries including Senegal and Ghana in order to gain support in emergencies. Airports in both those countries have been used by U.S. forces recently in connection with possible evacuation operations.
The official tells VOA efforts may be undertaken to reinforce and supplement these types of access and support agreements to allow for the construction of special facilities intended for U.S. military use. The official notes U.S. forces have had "one or two" special hangars in Uganda since the 1990s.
Those hangars are still in place at Entebbe Airport and the official says the United States recently turned them over for use by U.N. and French forces in connection with the current peacekeeping operation in northeastern Congo-Kinshasa.
In addition to possible facility construction, the official says U.S. forces will continue to visit Africa from time to time to conduct exercises lasting from four to ten weeks.
But the official notes these will only occur if operations elsewhere in the world permit training deployments.
In a related development, a spokesman for the U.S. military's special Djibouti-based anti-terrorist task force has disclosed American troops have visited Ethiopia for training with Ethiopian forces.
In that connection, the spokesman says U.S. officials have in recent months carried out what he describes as "airfield surveys" in a variety of locations, including sites close to the Somali border.
The spokesman says these missions were intended to identify sites for future training.
The spokesman denies the surveys represent any effort to "mass" U.S. troops on the Somali border. A recent Somali news report, posted on the U.S. military's Horn of Africa Task Force web site, claimed U.S. and Ethiopian forces were gathering along the Somali border, perhaps in preparation for sealing it off in an apparent precautionary move aimed at blocking terrorist incursions.