Mapping the growth of bases in Africa

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 

Nowhere has the arrival of lily pad bases been more striking than Africa. Until 2001, the Pentagon paid relatively little attention to the continent. Nine days after Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials inquired about creating a relatively small base in Djibouti, at the strategic entrance to the Persian Gulf. Today, there are approximately 5,000 U.S. troops and civilian employees at the 600-acre Camp Lemonnier.

Elsewhere, the military now has approximately 23 lily pads in around 19 countries; access to lily pads in about six more nations; and jet and naval fuel storage in at least 28 locations in 20 countries (although Pentagon secrecy makes a definitive accounting difficult). These facilities and other U.S. military programs in Africa have cost taxpayers around $30 billion since 2001. Because of widespread opposition to this unprecedented U.S. military presence on the continent, the headquarters and other major bases for the U.S. Africa Command remain in Germany, Italy and Spain.

Given the secrecy and lack of transparency involved in U.S. Africa Command operations, this map reflects the best available information as of August 2015. Fuel bunkers are indicated only in countries without a confirmed base presence; most countries hosting U.S. lily pads also host U.S. fuel bunkers. The U.S. military has access agreements to lily pad bases in the following countries, although there is not yet a confirmed base presence: Algeria, Botswana, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Zambia. Key sources: Lauren Ploch, Congressional Research Service reports; Nick Turse,; Craig Whitlock, Washington Post; Richard Reeve and Zoë Pelter, “From New Frontier to New Normal”; Alexander Cooley, Base Politics; Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis; news reports.