Japan Expands Military Presence in Horn of Africa Despite Decrease in Somalia Piracy

May 29: Despite the overall decrease in piracy in the Horn of Africa, Japan remains committed to an international security operation off the Horn of Africa which is increasingly a cornerstone of its wider Africa policy.

According to statistics displayed on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, despite last month’s pirate attack by Somali pirates and underlying instability and poverty persisting, Somali piracy is in decline.

Not surprisingly NATO closed up shop for Operation Ocean Shield – its contribution to anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa – in 2016. EU Naval forces (EUNAVFOR) Operation Atalanta to the Horn of Africa has no mandate past December 2020.

Yet, for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces it’s been full-steam ahead. Japan, while reducing its deployment of two destroyers to one in 2016, has simultaneously sought to expand its footprint in the Horn of Africa.

A token number of Japanese personnel are deployed to Bahrain, where the multinational Combined Task Force 151 is based. CTF-151 was set-up to provide an independent multinational framework for joint anti-piracy operations. However, Japan’s main base for these operations is Djibouti where Japan is planning to expand its operations.

“The mission reinforces Japan’s commitment to a rules-based international order while providing an essential service in preserving safe passage through maritime corridors critical to Japan’s economy and energy security,” says Mike Bosack, Special Advisor for Government Affairs at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies.

It is unclear how much Japan is paying to rent its facility in Djibouti. Nor will this mark the first expansion; the Japanese military facility, which has been in operation since 2013, announced an expansion from 13 to 15 leased hectares in 2017.

In 2017, China opened its own base in Djibouti that is 50 hectares and is China’s first overseas base.

“The fact that China is also in Djibouti adds impetus to Japan’s need for SDF presence in Africa,” Bosack told The Defense Post. “The Japanese Ministry of Defense has examined the possibility of making Djibouti a regional hub for the JSDF, but officials are not yet sure what purpose that hub would serve during steady-state, peacetime operations.”

The base has already served a supporting role for Japanese efforts in Africa. In 2016 the base was used to facilitate the evacuation of Japanese nationals from South Sudan as fighting flared that country’s ongoing civil war.

Source: The Defense Post / Joseph Hammond

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