U.S. worried about proposed Yemen-Djibouti bridge

Published 12 October 2007

An engineering company owned by Osama bin-Laden’s half-brother announced it was planning to build the world’s longest bridge: A 17-mile span connecting Yemen and Djibouti; U.S. worries it will faciliate terrorist activity in the Horn of Africa

This may be a case of a bridge too long. Last week we wrote about the 1 October formation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The new regional command is but one indication of the growing strategic importance of Africa in the war on terror. As if the situation in key spots in Africa were not worrisome enough, here is another worrisome development: The project of Tarek bin Laden’s Middle East Development LLC to build the world’s longest bridge: A seventeen-mile span connecting Yemen and Djibouti. This bridge will help concentrate minds further.

Chris Heffelfinger and Olivier Guitta write in this week’s issue of the Jamestown Terrorism Monitorthat there is a reason why the United States may finally be recognizing the significance of Africa to its own national interests. On the economic level, access to African oil and the will to counter China’s increasing presence on the continent are vital strategic interests which are pushing Washington to rationalize its approach to the fifty-three countries on the dark continent. The United States wants to see its share of African oil imports go from 15 percent to 25 percent by 2015. In light of this, the security issue is paramount, and explains why U.S. involvement in Africa is growing. Terrorism only excerbates this security situation. Recent U.S. military action in the Horn of Africa more than showed the need for a dedicated military command to counter al-Qaeda’s presence and operations in the region. At the end of 2006 the U.S. military helped Ethiopian troops in their rapid assault against Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, and in January 2007 American planes bombarded southern Somalia near the Kenyan border in a strike against an al-Qaeda site. Dating back to the 1990s, bin Laden and his organization have had operational ties to eastern Africa, first with Sudan, then in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

The proposed construction of a bridge connecting Yemen and Djibouti will threaten U.S. mission and operations in Africa by facilitating easy and rapid movement of people and materiel from terrorist-infested Yemen to the Horn of Africa. Tarek bin Laden, by the way, is Osama’s half-brother.