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China is aiming lasers at US military pilots in Africa, Pentagon says

Five MC-130J Commando IIs conduct low-level formation training over Clovis, N.M., Nov. 5, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Plew/Released)
May 03, 2018

China’s only overseas military base in Djibouti, Africa, has been using high-powered lasers to interfere with U.S. military aircraft from a nearby American base, and they have reportedly been aiming the lasers at U.S. military pilots, Pentagon officials told the Wall Street Journal this week.

The lasers have caused two minor eye injuries and prompted U.S. officials to issue a formal diplomatic protest with Beijing.

A formal notice was also issued for Airmen “to exercise caution when flying in certain areas in Djibouti,” because of “lasers being directed at U.S. aircraft on a small number of separate occasions over the last few weeks,” CNN reported on Thursday.

“During one incident, there were two minor eye injuries of aircrew flying in a C-130 that resulted from exposure to military-grade laser beams, which were reported to have originated from the nearby Chinese base,” the notice said.

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U.S. military officials stressed the gravity of the situation, stating that such activity can result in major aviation accidents.

Officials confirmed that the State Department has already issued a diplomatic protest with Beijing in an effort to get the Chinese military base to stop the activity.

The Djiboutian government is already on edge with U.S. military options following a series of aviation accidents in the eastern African nation this year.

In early April, a U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jet crashed at the country’s international airport, the same day a Marine Corps CH-53 chopper sustained minor damage while landing in Arta Beach. As a result of the accidents, Djibouti requested that the U.S. temporarily cease aviation activity.

The U.S. military base in Djibouti plays a critical role in the fight against terrorism. Around 4,000 U.S. military personal are stationed at Camp Lemonnier. The base’s proximity to countries like Somalia and Yemen, where the U.S. regularly targets terrorist airstrikes, allows for a strategic advantage.

While U.S. forces have been the greatest influence in the area for some time, China’s recent arrival has caused some concern for U.S. military officials.

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China’s naval base in Djibouti, which opened just last year, has confirmed China’s interest in the country and also has strengthened their economic ties. U.S. officials are now presented with the task of keeping an eye on China’s activity in the area.

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who oversees U.S. Africa Command, acknowledged the challenges of China’s presence during a speech before Congress back in March.
“We are taking significant steps on the counterintelligence side so that we have all the defenses that we need there, there is no doubt about that,” Waldhauser said, referring to the proximity of the new Chinese base.