US adds combat power in pursuit of terrorists in Africa
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon is adding new combat power in the Horn of Africa to pursue international terrorists more aggressively, the senior American commander in the region said Friday.
"We've been in a more aggressive posture for over a month,'' Marine Brig. Gen. Mastin Robeson, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, said in a telephone interview from his base in Djibouti, across the Gulf of Aden from Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland of Yemen.
Robeson said he added the option this week of bringing small numbers of Air Force, Navy or Marine fighter jets to Djibouti for short periods.
He said he has no immediate plan to exercise that option, but he indicated he believes the firepower will be needed at some point.
"We're talking about the opportunity for the first time to be able to push down, for selected time periods, small numbers of aircraft to work operational missions here,'' he said.
He referred to taking "selective actions'' against al-Qaida and other terrorist networks in the Horn of Africa.
Robeson said there has been "a pretty active flow'' of terrorists into or through the Horn of Africa in the past four months.
"We've definitely seen an increase not just in presence but in active transnational terrorist planning'' in trying to conduct operations, he said.
The Horn of Africa task force has been operating from Djibouti since last December.
Between 1,300 and 1,600 U.S. ground forces are at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, also France's largest base in Africa.
They include infantry and special operations forces from all the services. Helicopters and refueling aircraft are based there, but no fighters or bombers.
A team of Air Force pilots and maintenance personnel spent two days at Camp Lemonier this week to assess the availability of ramp space, fuel and ordnance storage for F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons and Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet fighters, he said.
The team left Friday.
Robeson noted an incident in May in which two men climbed aboard an idle Boeing 727 cargo jet in Angola and flew off without a trace.
He said that underscored concern about a repeat in Africa of al-Qaida's Sept. 11, 2001, tactic of using commercial jetliners as missiles to strike buildings.
"We certainly believe that Camp Lemonier could be one of the targets,'' he said.
"But we believe it is only one of several targets that also could be likely targets for either a hijacked or stolen aircraft to come and to crash into.''
Robeson said that in the aftermath of major combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military is in position to focus more directly on the terrorist threat in the Horn of Africa.
He said cooperation from friendly governments in the region has been excellent. - AP