Frank Gardner finds out why the MV-22 Osprey is important to Horn of Africa[/caption]
The US is dramatically increasing the tempo of its military operations in the Horn of Africa in an effort to counter violent extremism, in the wake of last year’s Westgate attack in Nairobi.Missile strikes by US drones against al-Shabab and al-Qaeda leaders are “vital” and will continue, according to the government of Djibouti, from where the controversial drone strikes are launched. Washington has been building up a large military base in Djibouti and training regional armies to fight al-Shabab in Somalia. ‘Complex problem’
Beneath a blazing sun, gunmetal grey helicopters line the runway at this former French Foreign Legion base, now leased by Washington from the government of Djibouti.The helicopters and rows of other US aircraft are equipped for long-range missions, some covert, some more conventional. The Pentagon’s recently created East Africa Response Force (EARF) is here. Its soldiers flew at short notice to South Sudan in December to protect the US embassy and its staff, a lesson learnt from the catastrophic attack on the poorly defended US consulate in Benghazi. The US taskforce here, under the catchy title of “Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa,” or CJTF-HOA, was set up nearly 12 years ago Back then, Washington’s aim was to stop al-Qaeda operatives from migrating westwards from Pakistan into East Africa, by interdictions and showing nations in the region how to improve their security. This week I put it to the Task Force Commander, US Brigadier-General Wayne Grigsby, that while that migration may have been checked, the Horn of Africa region is hardly a success story when it comes to security. Al-Shabab in Somalia have become proficient in laying roadside bombs and have launched attacks beyond their borders in Kenya and Uganda, while al-Qaeda in Yemen has three times succeeded in getting explosive devices on board international flights. All this, while CJTF-HOA was doubling in size. “It’s a complex problem,” admits Gen Grigsby, who only assumed command this year. But he says the Pentagon’s aim is to get others in the region to take on the burden of defeating al-Shabab. “Our mission here is to enable our East African partners to actually neutralise violent extremists throughout eastern Africa.
The drone strikes have continued, sometimes killing civilians and attracting condemnation from human rights groups as “extrajudicial killings”.So I asked Djibouti’s Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Ali Youssuf if this bothered him.