October 2, 2002
Special Operations: In Yemen, Or Not?- The 100 American Special Forces instructors set to Yemen trained a small number of snipers and other counter-terror troops for two months, then left in July 2002. However, U.S. officials believe Yemen is and remains a longtime base for suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists, as well as a sanctuary for others who fled the war in Afghanistan.
By September, U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Edmund J. Hull and the U.S. military commander for the region, General Tommy Franks, were negotiating with Yemeni officials on the details of a cooperative effort to capture or kill terrorist suspects. Yemen made it blatantly clear that they would take care of any Al-Qaeda problem within their borders - alone, without American help.
Anonymous American officials told the press on 18 September that while the US troops were poised for possible action, for the moment they had no intelligence information on the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda terrorists that could trigger a U.S. operation. The Pentagon acknowledged sending 800 special operations troops and 12 specialized MH-53 helicopters to Djibouti, while there were 1,500 to 2,000 Marines aboard the Marine amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood.
Camp Le Monier is a five-month-old U.S. base just miles across the Red Sea from Yemen and within striking distance of Iraq. Army spokesman Captain David Connolly told the Associated Press that "our forces in Djibouti and Camp Le Monier are providing limited support to other U.S. forces in the region". Americans have also been training at Obock, 30 miles north of Djibouti town across the Gulf of Tadjoura.
Djibouti's acting foreign minister, Mahamoud Ali, said American troops had been conducting large-scale exercises involving ground troops, helicopters, boats and AC-130 planes fitted with air-to-surface missiles. He quantified that Djibouti will not be used as a base for any military action against neighboring Yemen. Furthermore, according to government spokesman Rifki Abdouldaker Bamakhrama, the United States has never asked the Djibouti government for permission to use its territory as a staging ground for attacks on Iraq or on any other country in the region - while Djibouti was "opposed to any action of the kind". The Belleau Wood has been in waters between Yemen and the Horn since August, off of which Ali said any operations could be launched.
Another anonymous Pentagon official told Voice Of America on the 20th that the Special Operations forces in Jordan were likely to go to Jordan and the Marines to Kuwait, to take part in joint exercises previously scheduled in those countries for later in 2002.
One thing is certain - American forces in the area have been practicing decent OPSEC (Operations Security). Their presence in Djibouti since April has been kept mostly concealed, their immediate intentions and plans are shrouded in mystery. Are the media leaks the work of traitorous Americans, or simply disinformation? No matter - this can only serve to drive the spies outside of Camp Le Monier's gates, as well as enemy forces in the region, to the edge of fustration.
Djibouti had not asked for any compensation for allowing the U.S. troops to deploy, but the United States has been discussing giving the poor nation a $10 to $12 million development and humanitarian aid package. - Adam Geibel