Russians plan to enter a crowded African neighborhood

Russians plan to enter a crowded African neighborhood

Defense Secretary James Mattis is welcomed by Djibouti’s minister of defense Ali Hasan Bahdon during a visit to the nation (DoD file photo)

WASHINGTON — It was the most dreaded post for a French Foreign Legionnaire to be posted. Now the Horn of Africa is one of the world’s most-sought neighborhoods and is poised to welcome its third superpower to its overheated, sparse world.

Pentagon officials confirmed that Russia is seeking to build a base on the Horn of Africa, joining that of the U.S., China and others. It is the location, not atmosphere or neighbors, that is the lure — right on the Red Sea.

The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The highly used shipping route between sea and ocean is through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden.

It is the most interesting strait in the world and the one Pentagon officials consider the most critical.

That is the reason the U.S. and China have neighboring bases in Djibouti and why Russia is moving forward to construct a base in neighboring Eritrea.

In a meeting with Eritrean leaders in August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would build a “logistics center” in either the Assab or Massawa ports, according to news reports. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who are part of the coalition fighting in Yemen, are already using the Assab port.

China opened its base in Djibouti one year ago and, among other things, has used it to test shining laser beams into the eyes of U.S. pilots landing at the nearby American facility at Camp Lemonnier. Japan and Italy also have facilities in that country.

The U.S. uses its base as the main command and coordination center on the African continent for counter terrorist strikes. The U.S. and other nations also use the region to offset piracy in the strait, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, and to act in Yemen just across the waters.

Pentagon officials focus on the Bab-el-Mandeb because it is vulnerable to being mined by terrorists. The Bab-el-Mandeb is 12 miles wide and 31 miles long, one of the tightest in the world and one of the few waterways Pentagon planners say they fear could be shut down.

By comparison, the Strait of Hormuz at its narrowest has a width of 33 miles; the Strait of Gibraltar narrows to 8 miles, and the Strait of Malacca is 40 miles.

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