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Unlikely Fighter Jets Deployed to Horn of Africa Now, Says Official - 2003-07-30

A top Pentagon official says it is unlikely U.S. fighter jets will be deployed in the Horn of Africa, even though a military aviation assessment team recently visited Djibouti to look into that possibility.

A senior defense official said there is no reason for U.S. fighters to be deployed in the Horn of Africa at the present time and none are expected to be sent there.

The official spoke to VOA at the Pentagon on condition of anonymity just a little over two weeks after an 11-member Navy and Air Force aviation assessment team visited Djibouti.

At the time, a spokesperson with the special U.S. anti-terrorism task force based in Djibouti stressed no decisions had been made about any fighter deployments.

But the spokesperson identified three different types of attack jets that might be sent there. At the same time, a Pentagon official hinted the aircraft might be needed for future anti-terrorist operations in the Horn of Africa region.

But the senior defense official now tells VOA that the assessment was essentially theoretical, "a homework project somebody had."

The official said military authorities are constantly looking at a variety of options. But the official said these often result in no action and instead result in a study that the official describes as "a nice piece of paper on the shelf that can get dusty."

The senior official said the Pentagon would have to dramatically change U.S. defense intentions in the Horn of Africa to justify the deployment of fighter aircraft, particularly to Djibouti.

The official also says the small hot, dusty country would be a challenging environment in which to maintain aircraft.

The State Department recently warned of the threat posed by terrorists to U.S. citizens and interests in Djibouti - including a threat to aircraft.

There are some 1,800 U.S. military 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 together closely with security personnel from regional governments.