24/02/03 (B186) War on terror Africa-style (BBC) sous la plume de Frank Gardner (en anglais)

: une place de choix pour les Américains pourlancer des offensives contre Al-Qaeda ?

On peut aussi se demander si cet article ne développe pas une comparaison peu flatteuse pour les militaires français, présentés comme des promeneurs en ville et les soldats américains en opération et en alerte !

Derrière tout cela, IOG ne jouerait-il pas un peu la concurrence entre les deux pays ?

US troops opening a
new front in the War on Terror

The Pentagon and the CIA
have opened up a new front in the war on terror. It is not in the Gulf, but
in the Horn of Africa.

From a hi-tech command
ship in the Indian Ocean and a secretive base in Djibouti, Washington is collecting
information on al-Qaeda and preparing to mount covert operations against its
operatives in seven countries.

Djibouti is a funny
place to fight a war from.

Its whitewashed streets
carry no hint of menace.

The US military are almost
nowhere to be seen. In smart cafes in the central square there are bistro
tables and tottering chairs.

French gendarmes in khaki
shorts sip cafe au lait and tap their cigarettes.

« Psst, monsieur! »
calls a boy standing in the shadows with yesterday’s paper and a packet of
Gauloise cigarettes.

A man on crutches has
his hand outstretched.

Here comes a posse of
sailors, disembarked from France, all tattoos and jaws, just slightly drunk.

Tanned legionnaires with
shaven heads prop up the bar and stare straight ahead. A man sits alone by
the gates to the mosque, clutching the Koran with a withered hand.


I came here to see for
myself how the Pentagon was fighting its so-called « war on terror ».

Close to the main airport
I knew it had set up a camp for nearly 2,000 troops. The idea, I was told,
was to stop al-Qaeda members from making themselves at home in this region.

I asked to be shown how
this is done, and the US military obliged.

The unspoken fear was
that al-Qaeda would target this camp – but, today, they would certainly have
been outgunned

In a swirl of dust, the
helicopter put down in the shimmering heat. We filed on, into the tomb-like
interior. I found myself sandwiched, as if under arrest, between two huge
US marines, weighed down with rucksacks and weapons.

The aircrew gestured amidst
the clatter of rotor blades, all goggles and jumpsuits and colourful patches.
We took off, skimming over rooftops and a camp for Somali refugees.

The coastline of Djibouti
slid past through the window – a beach, a mangrove swamp, a black volcanic
mountain. We headed north, towards the Eritrean border.

on the ground

The marines were to pitch
camp on a deserted hilltop, preparing to test their weapons on some abandoned
tanks. But when we touched down on the rocks, it seemed someone was expecting

There was a flash and
a loud bang. The soldier opposite me tugged on his flak jacket, and grabbed
his M16 rifle. Someone shouted « Incoming ».

This was like a remake
of Hollywood’s Blackhawk Down, only for real. Suddenly I did not want to be
there. But as fast as it began, the drama was over.

It turned out it was just
an anti-missile flare, set off by a clumsy co-pilot as we landed.

On the barren hilltop,
we spent an uncomfortable night. The burnt, volcanic rock made for a poor
bed, and soon a tearing wind got up, tugging insistently at our sleeping bags.

A marine on radio watch
called out all night: « Fireball one zero, fireball one zero. Do you copy,
over? » I cursed him quietly, then realised it was already dawn.


A sad, grey light washed
over the encampment. A patrol came in, exhausted, after keeping watch all

I could see no sign of
life for miles around, but I was told there were smugglers and bandits who
pass through the valley below.

The USS Mount Whitney is a state of the art command

The unspoken fear was
that al-Qaeda would target this camp. But, today, they would certainly have
been outgunned.

Out of the morning mist
came a brace of helicopters, spewing rockets and cannon fire. The valley floor
erupted in smoke.

The tank targets, I have
to say, looked remarkably unscathed. But then came Harrier jumpjets, their
bombs guided onto target by lasers aimed by the marines on the hilltop.

It was all very impressive
but – I could not help thinking – slightly irrelevant for tackling an enemy,
that rarely, if ever, shows itself.

nerve centre

Airborne again, and this
time the helicopter took me due east, flying fast and low out over the Gulf
of Aden, skirting the coast of Yemen.

We circled twice over
a solitary ship, tilting so steeply I found myself looking vertically downwards
at the sea. This was the USS Mount Whitney, the nerve centre of the Pentagon’s
whole counter-terrorist operation in the region.

On deck, through a bulkhead
and down a steel corridor, I was ushered in to meet the two-star general in

Major-General John Sattler
is all marine. Tanned, fit and 50, he had a handshake which would crush a
billiard ball.

He smiled a lot, then
told me the al-Qaeda threat kept him awake at night.

He has seven countries
to watch over, from Sudan to Somalia. He spends half his time flying round
the region meeting presidents and their ministers, coaxing them to get tough
on terrorism.

I asked him if this meant
the Pentagon was gearing up to go into Yemen and Somalia.

Not necessarily, he replied.
The US, he said, would much rather that the host countries pursued al-Qaeda

But now that the US has
special operations troops here on the ground it does have, he said, the ability
to react extremely quickly.

And I have seen them myself:
silent, lantern-jawed men with tired eyes and deep tans. For months now, they
have been kicking their heels here, waiting for a mission.

With al-Qaeda still active
in the region, they will almost certainly get one. The only question is who
will be the first to strike.