The United States is looking to further strengthen its ties with the country of Djibouti. At the request of the Djiboutian government, the U.S. is helping the small Horn of Africa nation build an elite Special Forces infantry unit, the Rapid Intervention Battalion (RIB). The unit will be trained and equipped by the U.S. The U.S. also delivered 54 armored HUMVEEs to Djibouti as part of a $31 million aid package to the country. All this is aimed at further strengthening ties between the two countries, while countering Chinese influence. 

Captain Michael Simpson from the U.S. Army is heading the training mission with the RIB. “With the delivery of these vehicles, we will increase the capability of the (Rapid Intervention Battalion) to conduct mounted patrols and respond quickly to any mission,” he said. 

The Rapid Intervention Battalion (RIB) was formed using experienced officers and NCOs from the military. They are trained in light infantry tactics, mission planning, land navigation, communication exercises and “additional advanced instruction,” a statement from AFRICOM read.

“The RIB is the first Djiboutian Special Force that the (U.S.) has agreed to fully support,” Army Lt. Gen. Zakaria Cheikh Ibrahim said after a change of command ceremony in Djibouti. “I would like to thank the team of American instructors who spare no effort to transmit their knowledge to the soldiers of the RIB.”

Located next to Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, in Djibouti City, is the U.S. Camp Lemmonier base. Camp Lemmonier is a United States Naval Expeditionary Base from where the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) of the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) is based. Currently, it is the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa. 

Originally a base for the French Foreign Legion, Camp Lemonnier was named after the French General Émile-René Lemonnier. After the beginning of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the United States leased the former French base which had fallen into significant disrepair. The U.S. expanded the base from 97 acres to over 500. Camp Lemonnier also serves as a base for air operations in the Persian Gulf region. 

The United States has been using the base to support operations around the Horn of Africa as well as in Somalia. The U.S. and Djiboutian governments signed a lease giving the Americans access to the base for another 15 years, until 2034, with another 10-year option.                                          

The U.S. has been spending about $200 million a year in Djibouti; this represents about 10 percent of Djiboutian GDP. The U.S. is also the second largest employer in the country after the Djiboutian government. U.S. officials are worried, however, that the massive Djiboutian debt, which is owned by the Chinese, will be used as economic arm-twisting. They worry that if the Chinese take over the port of Djibouti in lieu of payment, that the United States’ access there will be cut. 

China entered the picture in 2017 and opened its first overseas military base near the American facility. 

The U.S. government is concerned with the Chinese base in Djibouti and in Africa in general. The Pentagon is to plan on how to deal with possible Chinese interference in Africa and what could the threats to American personnel, installations and the logistics trail in Africa be. Minor incidents are already occurring in Djibouti: American pilots, attempting to land at the airport, were temporarily blinded by lasers aimed at them from the Chinese base. The Chinese have denied using lasers and claimed that they had nothing to do with the incident.

Across the border in Somalia, the U.S. completed, in late November, a nearly $27 million deal whereby Navistar will supply 6×6 transport trucks and recovery vehicles to the Somalian military. 

According to a press release by Navistar, its 7000-MV General Transport Truck (GTT) has been designed for heavy-duty transport, although it can be converted to an armored personnel carrier. The 7000-MV GTT offers a five-ton off-road capacity and a weapon station that can handle up to .50 caliber machine guns. The standard payload is 13 tons. The GTT has removable seating to transport up to 20 soldiers or cargo.

The GTT is offered in several variants, including mine and mine countermeasures, water tanker, refueller, dump truck and recovery vehicle.

The Wrecker recovery vehicle can haul 36 tons and was designed as an armored vehicle recovery vehicle. It allows two- to three-men crews to retrieve damaged or mission-disabled vehicles and carry out other support missions. The Wrecker provides ballistic, mine and Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) protection to its crew through the use of a V-shaped hull. A recovery crane is mounted on the rear side of the chassis and a winch is mounted at the front of the vehicle.

The U.S. has been steadily beefing up its presence in Somalia since 2006 and is assisting the government in fighting Islamic insurgents (al-Shabab). There is reportedly also work being done on six different base sites for American troops.