The Pentagon is responding to the increasing security threat in East Africa by strengthening military bases in Kenya and Djibouti.
The US is building air-support facilities at Manda Bay in Kenya, which can accommodate giant cargo planes carrying weapons, African Union and US troops.
Known as Camp Simba, this facility near the border with Somalia, hosts about 60 US military personnel, with the capacity to accommodate more in future.
Camp Simba is also a site for US training of Kenyan maritime forces tasked with countering threats posed by Al-Shabaab and other militant groups.
Another US military facility in Kenya — the Humanitarian Peace Support School in Nairobi — serves as a training area for African Union troops assigned to combat operations inside Somalia.
According to an article published in March in the Washington-based National Journal, this school includes replicas of a village and a town square that are intended to provide the Amisom trainees with a realistic picture of what they may face in Somalia.
The US installation in Djibouti, known as Camp Lemonnier, has become the nerve centre for Pentagon operations throughout the Horn of Africa. It includes a compound that houses US special operations forces that have reportedly taken part in raids inside Somalia.
The US maintains a base for armed and reconnaissance drones at another location in Djibouti. Pentagon officials hardly comment on operations conducted from there, but some analysts suggest that the recent strike that killed two Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia may have originated from that base.
President Barack Obama’s administration has declared its intention of executing a foreign-policy “pivot to Asia,” but the buildup in Kenya and Djibouti suggests the US is also intensifying its military focus on East Africa.
Despite the presence of US troops at both Camp Lemonnier and Camp Simba, the strategy underlying these bases casts the United States in a support role for African-led military initiatives.
“This model represents a new style of American war-fighting for an era of austerity,” wrote National Journal reporter James Kitfield, who visited both Camp Simba and Camp Lemonnier.
“The partnership works this way: The United States and its partners provide the expertise and money; Africans provide the fighters.”
The Pentagon is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements at Camp Lemonnier and Camp Simba. Most of that money — $390 million from 2009 to 2012 and another $1.2 billion planned for the next 25 years — is being spent on the Djibouti base, which is projected to house some 4,000 US troops and private contractors.
A spokesman for the US Africa Command (Africom) Tom Saunders says the construction projects underway or scheduled at Camp Lemonnier “are not related to an expanded mission, but are part of the Navy’s mission to operate and sustain the base.
“The upgrades are intended to heighten the level of comfort at Camp Lemonnier,” added Mr Saunders.
“Many of the facilities US personnel live and work in are austere and temporary structures,” he told The EastAfrican. These projects raise the quality of life for our people.”
But contracts on file with the Pentagon indicate that much of the spending involves facilities with mainly operational purposes such as an aircraft hangar, a telecommunications installation, an air operations centre and an armoury.