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Djibouti-based troops restricted to base following bombing

U.S. Army Soldiers with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa's East Africa Response Force (EARF) load onto a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Dec. 18, 2013. The EARF deployed to South Sudan supporting the departure of U.S. Embassy personnel.

STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. military personnel at Camp Lemonnier are locked down following a fatal bombing Saturday at a restaurant frequented by westerners in Djibouti, the strategic Horn of Africa nation that borders Somalia.

No U.S. personnel were among the dead or injured, but, as a precaution, troops have been restricted to base, the U.S. military's Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa said.

"At this point, any kind of liberty has been called off," said 1st Lt. Miranda Summers-Lowe, a spokeswoman with the task force.

Official business is continuing, but off-post missions are being carefully considered to ensure necessary precautions are taken, Summers-Lowe added.

"People are our most important asset and following the events of last weekend CJTF-HOA has increased security measures as appropriate and will continue to assess the situation in order to protect our personnel," Summers-Lowe said by email.

Three civilians were killed and scores of others were injured in the attack, including some military assigned to the European Union's counter-piracy mission, according to multiple media reports.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the bombing, and there were conflicting accounts of what transpired.

The Djiboutian news agency ADI reported that three people died and 15 were wounded in an attack carried out by two Somali suicide bombers. Other media, however, reported that the attack appeared to have involved grenades and may not have been a suicide bombing.

Al-Shabab, the notorious Somalia-based terror group that has long sought to impose a harsh form of Islam on the country, is the prime terror group in the broader region. So far, it has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

Since 2001, Camp Lemonnier has served as the U.S. military's main operational hub on the continent with a special focus on security matters around the Horn of Africa. In all, about 4,000 U.S. personnel are stationed in Djibouti, where the military compound has been under rapid expansion. Earlier this month, the U.S. reached a long-term security deal that ensures the military access to Camp Lemonnier for at least another 10 years.

Though Djibouti shares a border with volatile Somalia, it has not been prone to the types of large-scale attacks that have hit other countries in the region, most notably the assault by gunmen on a mall in Kenya last year that killed more than 60 people. Following that attack, U.S. personnel more than 1,000 miles away in Djibouti were restricted to base for several months as a precaution.

"We will apply the lessons that we've learned from other attacks in the area to make informed policies, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to protecting our people," Summers-Lowe said. "We will work together with our local partners to evaluate when conditions will allow for off-post liberty."

Al-Shabab, which is believed to have executed the Kenya attack, also is blamed for a similar attack in Uganda in 2010. Both Kenya and Uganda have played a large role in military missions in Somalia aimed at rooting out the insurgent group.

Djibouti also has been a troop contributor to the African Union-led mission in Somalia.

In addition, the country has been a long-time host to western militaries. France and the U.S. have the largest presence, but several other nations routinely have troops stationed in the country. Italy, for example, is in the midst of constructing an outpost roughly five miles from the Somalia border.

After the Saturday attack on the restaurant, the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti warned Americans to avoid places frequented by Westerners.

"The U.S. Embassy has advised members of our staff to limit their movements and exercise heightened security measures at this time," the embassy stated on its website. "U.S. citizens are advised to do the same; limit movements, avoid areas frequented by Westerners, implement additional personal security measures and review personal crisis response plans."

Added Summers-Lowe: "We're hearing this is the biggest (attack) to happen in Djibouti since its independence (in 1977)."

vandiver.john@stripes.com

 

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