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US to  Deploy Fighter Aircraft in Djibouti - 2003-07-11

The Pentagon appears poised to expand the U.S. military presence in the Horn of Africa, adding jet fighters for the first time to the anti-terrorism task force already deployed in Djibouti.

A U.S. military site survey team was preparing to leave Djibouti Friday after a brief visit to assess the feasibility of stationing advanced American fighter aircraft there.

A spokesperson [Captain Patricia Lang] for the U.S. military's Horn of Africa Task Force tells VOA the 11-member assessment team included both Air Force and Navy flight operations and aircraft maintenance specialists.

The jets under consideration for a possible deployment to Djibouti include the F-15 Strike Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the FA-18 Hornet.

But the spokesperson stresses no decisions have been made on when or which fighters might be deployed or where the aircraft will be coming from.

A senior Pentagon official tells VOA the Horn of Africa region remains what he calls "an area ripe for terrorists trying to find safe haven."

This official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says U.S. fighters could be of potential use in anti-terrorist operations in the region.

However, another military official suggests if a decision is made to base any fighters in Djibouti, it may only be a temporary move. The official says this could be for a short-term, operational need.

The official notes scores of U.S. aircraft are being relocated in the region following the end of major combat operations in Iraq. For example, American aircraft and personnel are being withdrawn entirely from Saudi Arabia.

There are some 1,800 U.S. personnel currently based in Djibouti, many of them Special Operations forces. They are occasionally joined by other U.S. military units which conduct training in the Horn of Africa area.

The task force's main mission is to detect, disrupt and defeat terrorist groups in the Horn, working closely together with security personnel from regional governments.