Dangerous conditions at Djibouti base threatens U.S. military pilots

French Air Force Mirage 2000-5Fs 52 ‘116-EH’ and 74 ‘116-MK’ arrive at Base Aérienne 188 ‘Colonel Emile Massart’ at Ambouli International Airport/Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti on August 31, 2011

(Reuters) – Conditions at an African base used by U.S. military pilots flying missions over Yemen and Somalia have become chronically dangerous, with fliers relying on local air-traffic controllers who sleep on the job and commit frequent errors, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Conditions at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti are so bad that U.S. warplanes and civilian airliners alike are routinely placed in jeopardy, according to federal aviation experts and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Post said.

U.S. officials told the Post the Obama administration has been pressing Djibouti in high-level talks to bolster aviation safety. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Djibouti on Saturday.

Navy Captain Matthew O’Keefe, the commanding officer of Camp Lemonnier, told the Post the risks cited in the documents obtained were old issues and did not reflect current conditions. The Post said it took 14 months for the Navy to release heavily redacted versions of the documents.

Unlike other U.S. military bases around the world, Camp Lemonnier has to use civilian air-traffic controllers hired by the government of Djibouti, the Post said. The base shares its two runways with Djibouti’s only international airport, a French military base and a contingent of Japanese military planes.

As traffic at the base has increased, the controllers’ dangerous habits and dislike for drones have disrupted U.S. military operations and prompted repeated warnings about the risk of a deadly accident, the Post said.

Some controllers habitually dozed on the floor while on duty and some chewed the leafy stimulant khat. Others played video games or made personal phone calls while ignoring communications from pilots, said the U.S. military documents, which were based on observation reports from the flight tower.

Controllers sometimes punished U.S. flight crews by forcing them to circle overhead until they ran low on fuel, the Post said.

In one case, an observer told an air traffic controller that an unmanned plane he was monitoring was low on fuel. The controller said he did not care because drones “only want to kill Muslims in Yemen and Somalia,” the report said.

djib-MMAP-mdDjibouti is 94% Muslim.

  • Drunk_by_Noon

    Air traffic controllers that chew khat and sleep while on duty!?

    Keep in mind these ATCs are the cream of the crop in technical know-how when it comes to Africa too.
    Our only two other choices are Eritrea and Somalia, both of which are even bigger crap holes.
    We used to use Yemen, but I think that option is not on the table anymore.

    • Frau Katze

      The cream of the crop isn’t much in such a place: no doubt they’re there not because they’re skilled but because they’re well-connected. That’s how it works in tribal/clan societies. Corruption is a feature, not a bug.

      That’s also why they’re total hellholes that can’t be improved.

      Add Islam and khat and you have a perfect storm.

  • Brett_McS

    Djibouti is one to remember for when you get asked for the name of a country starting with “D”. Everyone says Denmark.

  • Oracle9

    Aviation and primitives don’t mix. We should have known that at the start.

  • andycanuck

    Things will get really bad if the air traffic controllers insist upon speaking French!

  • bob e

    truly great news .. eff these poxy turds .. use a us navy carrier .. those
    ac’s don’t chew kat & sleep in radar rooms .. and if o’fraud dies of aids
    mebbe the navy pilots could render djibouti uninhabitable ..

  • Hard Little Machine

    US pilots aren’t fighting attack missions. They’re leading from behind a-la providing communications and logistics support. Obama could tell the the USAF to do all the air traffic control themselves but that would require Obama get off his ass and commit to something. So that’s not going to happen. Let a few planes crash and then run home.