Africom Commander Concerned About New Chinese Naval Base

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Gen. Thomas Waldhauser

Photo: Defense Dept.

As great power competition heats up, the commander of U.S. Africa Command is concerned about a new Chinese naval base being constructed in Djibouti.

“There are some very significant … operational security concerns,” said Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser on March 27.

Djibouti, a small country on the Horn of Africa, plays a major strategic role for the United States. It is home to Camp Lemonnier, an important U.S. foreign military installation.

China’s base is designed to be a port for the country’s ships that are transiting the region and that are involved in anti-piracy operations, Waldhauser noted. Already, China has several thousand peacekeepers in Africa, he added.

“You would have to characterize it as a military base,” he said during a meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C. “It’s a first for them. They’ve never had an overseas base, and we’ve never had a base of … a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be. So there’s a lot of learning going on and a lot of growing going on.”

China’s base will be located several miles away from Camp Lemonnier. Waldhauser anticipated that it would be completed sometime this summer.

Camp Lemonnier is important to not only Africom but to U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command and Special Operations Command, he added. It “is a significantly important base vis-à-vis its geography,” he said. France also has a military base in the country.

The Pentagon has spoken with the Djiboutian government and they are aware of the United States’ concerns, he said.

“They know what our concerns are but again it’s something that we’re going to have to watch because it’s a first for us and it’s a first for the Chinese,” he said.

Meanwhile, Waldhauser said there is a need for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets within the command.

“One of the shortcomings that we have on the continent ... is we would like to have additional ISR resources in order to help us develop intelligence on the various violent extremists organizations,” he said. Boko Haram, the Islamic State and al-Shabab are just some of the terror cells on the continent.

Africom does a “good job” being innovative in terms of getting the most out of the platforms it already has, he said. It is currently doing “OK right now in terms of what we have.”

Waldhauser did not specify what type of ISR platforms the command needed, but said it was more than just video footage and included the “whole spectrum.”

While cybersecurity has emerged as one of the top issues for the military writ large, Waldhauser said it is less so within Africom.

“For the most part, … it’s a concern of ours. We need to do more and get better at it but a lot of the problems we have on the continent don’t necessarily revolve around cyber,” he said. “That’s not to take lightly a cyber threat … but our cyber challenges at the moment perhaps aren’t as great as they are in other theaters.”

That being said, the command has been working to increase its efforts to counter the messaging of violent extremist organizations, Waldhauser said.

“We’ve used really the internet to a large degree to try and influence operations,” he said. “ISIS is very good at their use of the web and social media … and to a large degree, our effort has been to try to knock down or at least get out ahead of some of the messaging. That’s the case all over the continent.”



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