U.S. AFRICOM (Africa Command) reported that it had carried out 679 activities (missions, programs, and exercises) in 2014. This includes training, advising, intelligence gathering (via UAV, manned aircraft or people on the ground), logistical or technical assistance and so on. That was 23 percent more than in 2013 and four times as many as 2008 the first year AFRICOM was in charge of all American military activities in Africa. The number of activities (many of them classified SOCOM missions) is expected to be more than 20 percent higher in 2015.
So why is Africom HQ located in Stuttgart, Germany?
No country in Africa wanted to risk the political blowback from hosting a major American military headquarters. Locating a HQ in an African country is probably never going to happen.
There is one official U.S. military base in Africa, in Djibouti. France and the United States SOCOM (Special Operations Command) have had special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) stationed in Djibouti, which is next to northern Somalia, for years. France has had commandos there for over a decade and the U.S. moved in after September 11, 2001. But you don’t hear much about this.
France has been building up their special operations capability in Djibouti since 2006 in anticipation of problems in Eritrea and Somalia, both of which are involved in disputes with Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)-Djibouti railroad is pretty lucrative for Djibouti and France (because it is Ethiopia’s main outlet to the sea), and fighting between Ethiopia and either of its neighbors could create problems there.
American Special Forces in Djibouti have a base near the main French one. It’s pretty easy to spot on Google Earth. Less easy to spot is the fact that France and SOCOM also have access to one or more Ethiopian air bases. American UAVs operate from Ethiopia and Djibouti. The UAVs are sometimes armed with missiles. Some of these armed UAVs are believed to have (until early 2015) also operated out of Yemen air bases. When not attacking al Qaeda targets in Yemen, these UAVs are sometimes seen across the water in Somalia. UAVs are now operating out of a new base in Niger, to cover Mali. By 2010 there was even a small, and unofficial, CIA base in Mogadishu, the traditional capital of Somalia. The CIA, and similar outfits from other nations, also work from Djibouti. But most of the effort is directed at monitoring what is going on in the region (mainly Somalia and Yemen but also Eritrea, Nigeria, Kenya, Mali and Ethiopia), not at interfering with the local terrorists. Not much, anyway. The Djibouti base also supports operations throughout the Sahel.
The U.S. also has a number of other airports in central and southern Africa where it has agreements to quietly allow its military and contractor aircraft to operate. American warplanes (especially the very-long range F-15E) operate out of Persian Gulf air bases and have apparently carried out smart bomb attacks in Yemen, Somalia, and perhaps elsewhere in Africa. Throughout the region there are often large explosions at night. If a smart bomb was dropped from a high enough altitude, there would just be the explosion and yet another mystery no one was keen to solve.
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