- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

ASMARA, Eritrea Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, sharpening the U.S. focus on the Horn of Africa as a haven for terrorists, arrived in the Eritrean capital yesterday to discuss expanding military cooperation and to visit American troops training in neighboring deserts.
Mr. Rumsfeld is visiting Ethiopia and Djibouti as well as Eritrea. The three impoverished nations are neighbors in an unstable region that lies across the Red Sea from Yemen, the ancestral home of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Later in the week, Mr. Rumsfeld was headed to the oil-rich sheikdom of Qatar in the Persian Gulf to get a firsthand look at a new U.S. military command post headed by Gen. Tommy Franks.
Gen. Franks and hundreds of his battle staff are conducting an exercise this week to test the command post's ability to communicate with its naval, land and air components elsewhere in the Gulf. It is widely seen as a practice run for a U.S.-led war against Iraq, although no combat troops are involved.
In Asmara, the Eritrean capital, Mr. Rumsfeld met with President Isaias Afwerki and other government officials. Afterward, Mr. Afwerki told reporters that his country was not looking for U.S. handouts but was determined to help the United States in any possible way to fight a global war against terrorism.
Asked whether the offers included allowing U.S. troops on Eritrean soil, Mr. Afwerki replied, "That is the least of them."
So far, the United States has agreed only to use Camp Le Monier in the desert hinterland of Djibouti.
Later Mr. Rumsfeld flew to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where he was to meet Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The port at Assab, on the southern tip of Eritrea, is one of the largest on the Red Sea. When Gen. Franks the commander of all U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa, the Persian Gulf and Central Asia visited Assab in March, the government offered to host American forces on its soil.
The Pentagon recently established a specially tailored military force, called Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, to oversee anti-terrorist operations in the region. It is led by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Sattler, whose headquarters is the USS Mount Whitney, a command ship newly arrived in the area.
Mr. Rumsfeld indicated that the United States is in the Horn of Africa for the long haul. He said his decision to visit the area should be seen as an indication that the war against terrorism is truly global.
During the Cold War, the United States operated a listening post from Asmara. It was known as Kagnew Station and run by the Army Security Agency, a forerunner of the National Security Agency.
In neighboring Djibouti, hundreds of American troops have been training for months. Many are at Camp Le Monier, a French air base. Although some U.S. combat forces operated from Djibouti during the conflict in Somalia in the early 1990s, it has taken on added importance in the war against terrorism.
Djibouti is close to Yemen and on the Bab el Mandeb Strait, a choke point where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. It is not far from Yemen's port of Aden, where the USS Cole was attacked by terrorists in October 2000. Seventeen sailors died in that attack.

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