"Movie Night" is the softer side of this Army civil affairs team's effort to build relationships with Djiboutians.Its soldiers also provide medical care. They collect feces samples to help veterinarians and doctors at the main U.S. base, Camp Lemonier, combat the bugs and diseases infecting the people and their livestock. They devised a simple English-language course to make the villagers more employable to U.S. and other international firms locating in this port country."It is not just 'show up and play a movie for them.' We check on their health, give them some job skills and make their life potentially less vulnerable to terrorists, less vulnerable to extreme Islamic radicalism, through very simple measurements," explains Meehl, 35, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., who leads the 478th Civil Affairs Brigade's Delta Company.Djibouti is a tiny but strategic nation of a half-million people on the Horn of Africa's tip. At the mouth of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, it is a gateway to East Africa.In 2003, the U.S. military established Camp Lemonier on a former French Foreign Legion base outside the capital. Its Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) — a naval expeditionary base of about 1,500 sailors and Marines, along with Army and Air Force units — is part of the new U.S. Africa Command, known as Africom."Our mission here is to counter violent extremism," says Rear Adm. Anthony Kurta, the task force commander. He relies heavily on "indirect" efforts such as medical teams, a naval-construction battalion and liaison work with regional militaries.Up to 90 percent of operations involve such hearts-and-minds outreach, other officers say.It all falls under what the military calls "the 3D approach" — defense, diplomacy, development.
A little smaller than Massachusetts, Djibouti — with its strategic location, world-class port and seemingly stable government — is an island of security in a pretty dangerous neighborhood.Conflicts seethe across the region, some overtly and others by proxy.Next door in Somalia, for example, bloody warfare has raged on rubble-strewn streets for nearly two decades, sometimes leading to U.S. intervention. With U.S. blessing, Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006, then assisted U.S. airstrikes on al-Qaida there.U.S. officials fear neighboring Eritrea is aiding the al-Qaida-linked Al Shabab, a State Department-designated terrorist group that is trying to overthrow Somalia's weak Transitional Federal Government.Several Horn of Africa nations, including Djibouti, aid the Somalis; the U.S. task force works "with their security services" on some operations, Kurta says.In Djibouti's relative stability, U.S. soldiers and sailors eat in capital restaurants and patronize nightclubs. Their gravest threat seems to be the intense heat that often pushes 120 degrees.Yet "there is a danger of becoming complacent ... we're seven miles from the Somali border," says Master Chief Mark Cummings, 49, of Brookville, Pa.
Djibouti has its own security issues, too.
It is fighting along its northern border with Eritrea, which is waging a long-running war with Ethiopia; it is across the Gulf of Aden from impoverished Yemen, which some experts warn may become a failed state and a terrorist bastion.Porous borders add to the region's woes. According to Kurta, "extremists can take advantage of those poorly governed borders," and war refugees pose significant problems.
Djiboutians worry most about Somalia's unrest spilling over to their country.It is a concern the U.S. admiral shares: "The lack of a functioning government in Somalia for many years has led to an extremist threat. It is a threat to Djibouti, it's a threat to Kenya, it's a threat to other nations here in the area."They perceive that threat ... and they ask us for some assistance in combating that threat and, again, that is why we are here," Kurta says.Not everyone believes the Americans are doing enough, however.Bespectacled Abdallah Mohamed Kamil sits in a modest downtown office while Djiboutians seeking help wait in his anteroom. The dignified politician with receding gray hair was Djibouti's prime minister in the 1970s, the early days of liberation from France.Somalia helped tiny Djibouti to win its freedom, he says. Now, that neighbor is dangerously destabilized. Al Shabab fighters are "cutting off hands, killing women and cutting throats," he says in his native Afar, one of Djibouti's tribal languages.If Al Shabab seizes control of Somalia, he warns, "they are not going to stop there. They are going to Somaliland, they are going to go to Ethiopia, and they are going to come here."The Americans are not doing what they need to do to stop this."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley says the United States is working on solutions to Somalia's many challenges and is the largest donor to the African Union military mission there, giving more than $150 million in aid.According to Crowley, U.S. officials have told Somali leaders that "as you ... expand your control of territory, we'll look for ways in which we can help you deliver services that improve the daily lives of the people there."Security is one dimension, but also the ability to deliver assistance to the people — it will be that kind of combination that will turn the tide against Al Shabab."Military options are not off the table, though. In mid-September, U.S. Special Forces flew into Somalia and killed an al-Qaida leader and several Al Shabab members.With so few U.S. troops here, most support hearts-and-minds outreach — the "tail rather than the head of the mission," according to Robert Rotberg, editor of "Battling Terrorism in the Horn of Africa" and a Harvard University professor.Even so, Rotberg says this joint task force is essential."It is certainly important to have a U.S. post in the region, so the U.S. can understand ... what is happening in the Horn of Africa as well as Yemen, and keep an eye on potential threats of terror, and help the nations, which are pretty poor," he says."So the more learning we have, the better off we are. watch the video