The Joint Task Force Mission in the Horn of Africa

Manlio Dinucci
Il Manifesto

A U.S. military plane crashed in Djibouti, announced AFRICOM on 20 February 2012, adding that the accident occurred during a “routine flight.” The meaning of “routine” in this regard remains to be seen.

The plane was a U-28, a Swiss-made turboshaft transport aircraft, used by the Special Forces. The aircraft, which carries the most advanced electronic systems, is capable of landing on grass and dirt airstrips and is specifically adapted for secret missions. Aboard the crashed plane were three officers of the Special Operations Command Group based in Hurlburt, Florida and one from the 25th Intelligence and Reconnaissance Squadron.

They operated from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the main military base of AFRICOM on the continent and headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Djibouti occupies a geostrategic position of critical importance because of its location on the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, where the African coast is only some thirty kilometer’s distance from the Arabian Peninsula. The Strait itself is one of the most important sea-routes because it is the indispensable passage for maritime trade, in particular for the oil tankers that cross the Red Sea.

The Task Force based in Djibouti commands approximately 3,500 members of the Special Forces and intelligence services, including private military contractors, assisted by logistical services comprising about 1,200 employees from Djibouti and from other countries. Its official mission is to “contribute to security and stability” in a vast “operational zone” composed of ten African countries, among them Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi—and in a so-called “zone of interest” made up of other African countries—among them Madagascar, Mozambique, Chad, Egypt, Sudan, Congo, as well as Yemen located on the Arabian peninsula. It is not known how this Task Force operates given that its actions are covered by national security but the results are observable. More and more incursions are carried out by the armed Predator drones the CIA has deployed at Camp Lemonnier, mostly on Somalia and Yemen.

Another important Task Force mission is the training of African troops, employed in the operations of AFRICOM. With $7million in financing, a Djiboutian mechanized infantry battalion was formed and armed, composed of 850 soldiers to be used in Somalia. From there, also sponsored by AFRICOM which financed the operation with more than $50 million, thousands of additional soldiers were sent to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Burundi. They are officially deployed in Somalia at the invitation of the Somali “government” to combat the Islamist group Al-Shabab, said to be linked to al-Qaeda, that mythical and tentacular monster described as still so dangerous despite its having been decapitated with the death of Osama bin Laden.

This is how the Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa intends to “defuse conflicts and protect U.S. interests.” As proof of the noble motives of its mission, the Task Force announced that this year the Camp Lemonnier will be provided with the most advanced “ecological” technologies. “Saving energy,” as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta put it, “means saving money and saving lives.”