Incidents near Beijing’s Djibouti military base injured American air crews flying nearby
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that Chinese nationals fired lasers near a military base in east Africa against U.S. military aircraft in the region, injuring several pilots.
Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White said the U.S. government made diplomatic protests to the Chinese government over several recent incidents of laser firings near China’s first overseas military base at Djibouti.
“These are very serious incidents. There have been two minor injuries. This activity poses a threat to our airmen,” White told reporters.
“We have formally demarched the Chinese government, and we’ve requested that the Chinese investigate these incidents,” she added.
The number of incidents is “more than two but less than ten” and the laser firings took place in recent weeks, White said.
White said the Pentagon is confident that Chinese nationals were behind the laser firings but did not elaborate on the intelligence linking Beijing to the incidents.
She declined to speculate on the Chinese motive behind the laser attacks.
“I believe there have been cases where this has happened previously,” White said. “But what this started was these last few weeks we decided to become very serious about it, and we have demarched the Chinese, and we’ve asked for the investigation.”
China’s government has not commented on the incidents. A Chinese military expert told the state-run Global Times newspaper that the U.S. accusations that China used a laser weapon in Djibouti was “groundless.”
China opened the military base in Djibouti last year and plans to deploy some 400 troops there.
China’s government has asserted that the base is merely a logistics hub for anti-piracy operations as well as to support China’s international infrastructure project called Belt and Road Initiative.
The U.S. government regards the Chinese base as part of Beijing’s efforts to project military power around the world.
The Djibouti incidents appear similar to the 1997 incident involving a Russian merchant ship that was shadowing a Navy missile submarine and fired a laser on a Canadian surveillance helicopter.
The laser damaged the eyes of the Navy Lt. Jack Daly and Canadian pilot Captain Patrick Barnes near Washington state and was covered up by the administration of President Bill Clinton.
Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, warned in congressional testimony in March that China is seeking to expand and possibly take over the strategic port in Djibouti, which owes Beijing an estimated $1.2 billion in construction debt.
China operates a naval port and “multi-purpose” port that offloads containers from freighters.
Waldhauser said a Chinese takeover of ports in Djibouti would have “significant consequences” for U.S. military operations there.
“We are not naive to think that some of the activities the Chinese are doing in terms of counterintelligence there are taking place, but it just means that we have to be cautious,” Waldhauser told the House Armed Services Committee March 6. “We have to be on guard for that type of situation.”
Full article: Pentagon Confirms Chinese Fired Lasers at U.S. Pilots (Washington Free Beacon)