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Djibouti

US military influence faces growing pressure

President Biden seeks Kenya’s support in the region as he withdraws troops from Niger and the Gaza war complicates America’s presence in Djibouti

The influence of the United States and its military base in Djibouti is likely to be a hot topic for President Joe Biden during Kenyan President William Ruto’s state visit to the White House this week.

After agreeing with the military junta in Niger to withdraw its contingent of 1,000 troops by mid-September, the US base in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier, home to more than 5,000 deployed service members, and to the US Africa Command, will assume greater importance. However, the US base exists along with a plethora of international players (AC Vol 58 No 7, Saudi wants one too).

The US military presence in Djibouti has been complicated by the war in Gaza. President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s government is walking a diplomatic tightrope to retain its neutrality since the Israel-Hamas conflict tipped into nearby waters. In the meantime, the Djiboutian government has had close relations with the European Union’s rival Operation Aspides, which was set up as a sign of disassociation from the US-led operation against the Houthis known as Prosperity Guardian.

Guelleh’s government has warned Washington not to use its territory to confront Houthi militants in the Red Sea despite missiles fired by Houthi militants from Yemen at commercial ships in the Red Sea falling close to Djibouti’s coast.

The Yemeni militant group controls much of the north of the country and part of its Red Sea coast. Several of the group’s officials have claimed in recent weeks that it will attack US interests or military forces in Djibouti, Eritrea or Somalia.

The biggest issue facing the White House in the Red Sea is not the Houthi threat but the Biden administration’s isolation. Biden will likely look for Ruto’s support and leverage with a fellow East African state.



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