U.S. forces plan to keep a close eye on China’s new naval base in Djibouti because it is just a few miles from an important American base, according to a key U.S. general.

China’s proximity to Camp Lemonnier, a permanent U.S. Navy-led installation at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, creates significant “operational security concerns,” said Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Due to its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, Camp Lemonnier is used not only by AFRICOM but by U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. AFRICOM has discussed its concerns with Djibouti’s government.

Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command. (Photo courtesy of AFRICOM)
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command. (Photo courtesy of AFRICOM)

The Chinese base, slated for completion this summer, is designed to support anti-piracy and peacekeeping operations. But it poses unique challenges because it will be China’s first overseas base and the first peer-competitor base near a U.S. base, Waldhauser told the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C., March 27.

“There’s a lot of learning going on and a lot of growing going on,” he said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to watch because it’s a first for us and a first for the Chinese.”

In other comments, Waldhauser said he has not seen terrorist groups in Africa, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, mimic the Islamic State’s recent use of small unmanned aerial vehicles to drop bombs on Iraqi forces. But he does not rule out the possibility that that could change.

“We don’t see that with al-Shabaab, for example,” he said. “We don’t see that with Boko Haram, for example. But that’s not to say that in the future, that that level of technology would not catch up with those particular groups.”