Alternative Future: Assessment of the Effects of the Loss of the American Lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Travis Prendergast has served in the United States Army for eight years as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Staff Officer, and Rifle Company Commander.  He currently serves as a Company Commander in U.S. Army Recruiting Command.  He has just started tweeting as @strategy_boi, where he shares fiction and non-fiction content.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Alternative Future:  Assessment of the Effects of the Loss of the American Lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Date Originally Written:  August 10th, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 17, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a current military member who served at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti in 2018. The article is written from the point of view of a historian in the mid-2030s, examining shifts in great power competition in East Africa.

Summary:  After the United States lost its lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti in 2024, a series of operational and strategic challenges arose in East Africa. The departure of certain operational assets degraded America’s capability to conduct crisis response. At a strategic level, the ability of the United States to stem Chinese foreign direct investment and influence in Africa also suffered.

Text:  Looking back, it is easy to pinpoint the shift in America’s strategic position in East Africa to the 2024 decision by Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh to not allow the United States to extend its lease on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ). As a former commander of United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) had once said of the then $1.2 billion worth of Djiboutian debt to China, there did indeed come a time when that money would be collected[1]. The collection came at a steep price for Djibouti, as the country was forced to hand over control of the Doraleh Container Terminal to Beijing, an outcome many had feared would be the eventual result of the Chinese debt trap[2]. However, the United States paid the steepest price of all by losing its strategic position at CLDJ, which was at the time the United States’ longest enduring military base in Africa and headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Whether the loss came as a result of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) influx of money and influence into the Djiboutian government, or as a result of American foreign policy changes, is still in debate even ten years later. It is clear though that the loss of CLDJ triggered strategic and operational effects that are still being felt today.

With the loss of CLDJ, the United States’ already tenuous grasp on Africa, best illustrated by the failure of USAFRICOM to establish its headquarters on the continent itself, slipped further. First used by America in 2001 and expanded in 2007, the camp had been a hub for a variety of United States operations not just in East Africa, but in Yemen as well[3]. As the base expanded, so did its mission set, resulting in the United States basing not just special operations forces and Marines there, but also conventional Army units[4]. This expansion of the base and the operational support that Camp Lemonnier provided to the operations in Yemen and East Africa only intensified the impact of the loss of the American lease on CLDJ.

The immediate scramble to plan for and then re-locate the 4,000 personnel on Camp Lemonnier and their attendant functions to other locations left little time to plan for contingency operations in the Horn of Africa. Just as the United States military was completing its phased transition out of Camp Lemonnier, riots in the South Sudanese capital of Juba in 2026 threated American embassy personnel and tested USAFRICOM’s ability to respond to crises on the continent from outside the continent. With the departure of the East Africa Response Force from Camp Lemonnier, the United States could no longer provide a rapid response force as outlined in the New Normal procedures that had been in put in place in reaction to the Benghazi consulate attacks in 2012[5][6]. Instead, USAFRICOM and the Department of State had to rely on another child of the Benghazi attacks: the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP-MAGTF) located in Moron, Spain and Sigonella, Italy[7]. In the vast distances of the African continent, the time spent getting from Sigonella to Juba proved costly, and by the time the SP-MAGTF element secured the embassy, two American diplomats were dead. In the investigations in the months that followed, it was not lost on American legislators that a failure to maintain a foothold in East Africa had contributed to the loss of American lives and property in Juba.

Beyond the immediate operational costs of losing CLDJ, America faced a greater strategic loss in East Africa. As part of the BRI that China had been pursuing for over a decade prior to 2024, the Export-Import Bank of China had loaned Djibouti nearly $957 million as of 2018 in order to finance development projects[8]. Also under the BRI, China constructed the Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, a 3.5 billion dollar project[9]. After losing its foothold in Djibouti, the United States had little diplomatic clout to resist the continued investment of Chinese capital into East African states, furthering the debt trap situation beyond the borders of Djibouti. Furthermore, with the departure of the United States military from Djibouti, long-term American humanitarian projects in Djibouti, such as the 2019 opening of a medical clinic in the town of Ali Oune, no longer had a logistical base from which to draw support[10]. With America out of the way, any non-Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) was left in the hands of the French, Japanese, and other foreign powers present in Djibouti. America could no longer use its military to try to match, in some small way, the FDI provided by China.

Despite the American military departure from the region beginning in 2024, several of America’s allies remain to this day. Although the French Senate had previously expressed concern over Chinese influence overshadowing French influence in Djibouti, France’s defense clause remains in place and ensures that the French will remain in Djibouti even as China grows in power[11]. With piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa no less prevalent than in the late 2010s, the Japanese anti-piracy base just outside the old Camp Lemonnier gate continues its operations. However, no amount of anti-piracy operations or promises of defense can match the sheer influx of money that China promised, and delivered, under their BRI. As the world moves toward the 2040s and the completion of the multi-decade BRI, the world is left wondering if the 21st century will be a Chinese century. With the departure of the American military from Djibouti, the answer seems to be that in Africa, it already is.


Endnotes:

[1] Browne, R. (2018, April 08). US military resumes air operations in Djibouti. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/08/politics/us-air-operations-djibouti/index.html

[2] Belt and Road Initiative strikes again… Djibouti risks Chinese takeover with massive loans – US warns. (2018, September 02). Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2018/09/02/belt-and-road-initiative-strikes-again-djibouti-risks-chinese-takeover-with-massive-loans-us-warns/

[3] Schmitt, E. (2014, May 06). U.S. Signs New Lease to Keep Strategic Military Installation in the Horn of Africa. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/world/africa/us-signs-new-lease-to-keep-strategic-military-installation-in-the-horn-of-africa.html

[4] Ibid.

[5] Martin, P. (2019, March 20). East Africa Response Force deployed to Gabon. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.army.mil/article/218891/east_africa_response_force_deployed_to_gabon

[6] Schmitt, E. (2014, May 06). U.S. Signs New Lease to Keep Strategic Military Installation in the Horn of Africa. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/06/world/africa/us-signs-new-lease-to-keep-strategic-military-installation-in-the-horn-of-africa.html

[7] Egnash, M. (2019, January 14). Legacy of Benghazi: Marine force stays ready for quick Africa deployment. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.stripes.com/news/legacy-of-benghazi-marine-force-stays-ready-for-quick-africa-deployment-1.564342

[8] Daly, J. C. (2018, April 11). Geostrategic position draws foreign powers to Djibouti. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://thearabweekly.com/geostrategic-position-draws-foreign-powers-djibouti

[9] Belt and Road Initiative strikes again… Djibouti risks Chinese takeover with massive loans – US warns. (2018, September 02). Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2018/09/02/belt-and-road-initiative-strikes-again-djibouti-risks-chinese-takeover-with-massive-loans-us-warns/

[10] Nickel, S. (2019, January 31). U.S. Navy Seabees turn over Ali Oune Medical Clinic to Djiboutian officials. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from https://www.hoa.africom.mil/story/22489/u-s-navy-seabees-turn-over-ali-oune-medical-clinic-to-djiboutian-officials

[11] Griffin, C. (2018, October 28). Strategic Competition for Bases in Djibouti: TRENDS. Retrieved August 07, 2019, from http://trendsinstitution.org/strategic-competition-for-bases-in-djibouti/

Africa Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Djibouti Horn of Africa Travis Prendergast United States

Assessment of the American-led Constabulary during the American Occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934 in Comparison to Later Occupations

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which ran from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Travis Prendergast has served in the United States Army for eight years as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Staff Officer, and Rifle Company Commander. He currently works in USAREC. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of the American-led Constabulary during the American Occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934 in Comparison to Later Occupations

Date Originally Written:  May 31, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 16, 2019. 

Summary:  During the American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, the United States Marines officered a native constabulary called the Gendarmerie d’Haiti. Throughout the occupation, the Gendarmerie built infrastructure and assisted in the administration of the country. The success of the Gendarmerie can be compared with the failures of the Coalition Provisional Authority during the occupation of Iraq.

Text:  The United States of America began its longest military occupation of a foreign country in August 1915 when United States Marines landed in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The occupation was the Wilson administration’s reaction to the potential establishment of a European naval base that could control the Windward Passage, combined with growing instability in Haiti. This instability culminated in the violent execution of Haitian President Guillaume Sam by a group of Haitian elites. After landing, the Marines met little resistance and rapidly established control of the country. By September, the Marines had established garrisons in all the major towns in Haiti. In 1915 and again in 1918, the Marines used superior training and tactics to quell uprisings of the native cacos during the First and Second Caco Wars. Between these two wars and for the rest of the time that the Marines administered the government in Haiti, the Americans ran a native constabulary called the Gendarmerie d’Haiti[1].

The constabulary was comprised mostly of the noirs, which made up most of the population, but the officers of the constabulary were Marines. This was an attractive assignment for the Marines stationed in Haiti, as they would receive an additional stipend and a higher rank. For instance, a Corporal or Sergeant in the Marine Corps would be an officer in the Gendarmerie. In the same way, then Lieutenant Colonel Smedley Butler held the rank of Major General in the Gendarmerie while acting as its first commandant. The Gendarmerie d’Haiti was as a joint army-police organization, but their role didn’t stop there. The American-led constabulary also “administered prisons, roads, bridges, the water supply, telegraph lines, sanitation, and other vital services[2].” Despite allegations of war crimes and three resulting investigations, the American military presence in Haiti continued throughout the 1920s with general success. Towards the end of the decade, the Gendarmerie d’Haiti became gradually more comprised of Haitians, and in 1928, the government renamed it the Garde d’Haiti. With the help of the Garde d’Haiti, the American administrators ran an efficient government while reducing graft and increasing stability. Upon leaving Haiti in 1934, the American-run government left behind “1,000 miles of roads constructed, 210 major bridges, 9 major airfields, 1,250 miles of telephone lines, 82 miles of irrigation canals, 11 modern hospitals, 147 rural clinics” and more[3]. America also achieved its strategic goals of keeping out the Germans and creating stability. The occupation was ultimately a success, with the Gendarmerie a large part of that success.

Although the model used by the Gendarmerie d’Haiti had seen use in previous small wars, once the United States withdrew from Haiti, the native constabulary model did not see use again in the many counter-insurgency operations in the following century. The ensuing general distaste for overt American Imperialism ensured that white officers leading black foreigners in the service of an American-led government would not be a viable option. Instead, America favored train, advise, and assist (TAA) operations during the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts to the extent that the United States Army is now establishing units to carry on TAA operations as an enduring mission[4]. However, these operations were and are mainly concerned with establishing security to enable the success of a new government in an unstable nation. To truly examine the legacy of the American-led constabularies of the early 1900s, we must look to institutions that sought to exercise authority over a foreign government in an unstable state. The best example of this is the Coalition Provision Authority (CPA) of the early Iraq War.

Formed in the early days of the Iraq War and led by L. Paul Bremer, the CPA exercised executive, legislative, and judicial power in Iraq for 14 months from April 2003 to June 2004 as a caretaker government which attempted to set the conditions for a sovereign Iraqi government to take control of the country[5]. Planners for the occupation of Iraq had looked to the military occupation of Japan for guidance, considering that if they modeled the occupation off a previously successful one, the occupation would transform Iraq into a functioning democracy[6]. In 2019, we know that this was not the case. Looking back at the CPA through the lens of the Haitian Gendarmerie can help us understand why.

The occupation of Haiti was successful compared to the occupation of Iraq due to the continuity and command-structure provided by the Gendarmerie d’Haiti. By giving enlisted Marines commissions in the Haitian constabulary, the occupying force garnered a commitment to the institution for which they were working. Furthermore, the Gendarmerie benefited from having the “advisors” in a command position over those they were seeking to influence. Unlike the current model of organizations tasked with TAA missions, placing Marines in command positions added to the buy-in needed to garner a vested interest in the organization. Finally, the constabulary gave the American administration the benefits of a military-run government. Like in the successful military occupation of Japan, the Marines of the Gendarmerie stayed for long periods of time, with a clear military structure. Compare these facts with the experience of the CPA. Few leaders in the CPA stayed for the duration of its short lifespan, and organizations within the CPA suffered from the lack of a clear structure[7]. The continuity and structure of the American-led constabulary allowed the Marines to see successes in their administration of the country.

Even considering the above, it is important to remember that the American-led Gendarmerie was not without its problems. The reintroduction of the corvée labor system and sometimes brutal methods of enforcing the corvée were morally wrong and almost immediately led to the Second Caco War, despite Butler’s predecessor abolishing the system in 1918. Also, not all Gendarmerie officers had enlightened views of their Haitian subordinates. Smedley Butler led them with affection, but Colonel Tony Waller had a decidedly more racist and less compassionate view of the Haitian gendarmes under his command[8]. Even with these problems, the Gendarmerie d’Haiti showed how an American-led military organization can aid in the occupation and administration of another nation. While the United States will likely not employ this type of organization in the future, the successes of the Gendarmerie d’Haiti are worth remembering if the United States once again engages in the risky act of nation building.


Endnotes:

[1] Boot, M. (2014). The savage wars of peace: Small wars and the rise of American power. NY, NY: Basic Books.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lopez, C. T. (2017, June). SFABs to Free BCTs from Advise, Assist Mission. Infantry Magazine, 4.

[5] Ward, C. J. (2005, May). United States Institute of Peace Special Report: The Coalition Provisional Authority’s Experience with Governance in Iraq (Rep. No. 139). Retrieved May 29, 2019, from https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/sr139.pdf

[6] Dower, J. W. (2003, April 01). Don’t expect democracy this time: Japan and Iraq. Retrieved May 30, 2019, from http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/dont-expect-democracy-this-time-japan-and-iraq

[7] Hunter-Chester, D. (2016, May/June). The Particular Circumstances of Time and Place: Why the Occupation of Japan Succeeded and the Occupation of Iraq Failed. Military Review, 41-49.

[8] Boot, M. (2014). The savage wars of peace: Small wars and the rise of American power. NY, NY: Basic Books.

Assessment Papers Haiti Insurgency & Counteinsurgency Iraq Small Wars Journal Writing Contest Travis Prendergast