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Report: Djibouti Skies Dangerous for US Planes, Drones

FILE - In this image released by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Marines and sailors prepare to board a KC-130J Marine Super Hercules at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

A published report says aircraft at the U.S. military base in Djibouti are often placed in danger because of hostile or lax civilian air traffic controllers who oversee the camp's runways.

The Washington Post, citing military documents and federal aviation experts, reports that controllers at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti have been seen ignoring air traffic while playing video games, making phone calls, sleeping or chewing the narcotic drug khat.

It says the controllers have resisted efforts by U.S. consultants to improve their performance. In one case, a controller threatened a U.S. Navy officer with a lead pipe and threatened to "slit Americans throats" if he ever saw them away from the base.

The Post says the situation has led to numerous close calls in the sky and on the runways, including a 2013 incident where a private plane carrying Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh almost collided midair with a Kenya Airways jet.

An official at the Djiboutian Embassy in Washington dismissed the report, saying he is sure the airport is safe, and that if controllers were really sleeping or hooked on khat, "there would be accidents every day."

Camp Lemonnier is the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa and is used by a variety of U.S. fighter jets, spy planes, helicopters and drones taking part in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and East Africa.

Unlike other major U.S. bases, however, U.S. forces at Camp Lemmonier are dependent on local, civilian air traffic controllers. The camp shares its two runways with Djibouti's only international airport and a French military base.

A U.S. spy plane crashed a few kilometers from Camp Lemmonier in 2012, killing all four of its crew members. The Post says flight controllers refused the plane's initial request to land and told it to circle around the airport. A U.S. Air Force investigation absolved the controllers of blame in the crash.

A total of six U.S. drones have been destroyed in crashes at the camp. A former U.S. aviation official says the Djiboutian air controllers "hated" the drones because they considered them unreliable and as weapons used to kill Muslims.

The U.S. military has used drone strikes to kill members of militant group al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia.