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U.S. warns of laser attacks on military pilots near Africa base

By
Sara Shayanian
Airmen from the 303rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron perform deck landing qualification training on the U.S. Naval Ship Washington Chambers, near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on June 27, 2017. Photo by Master Sgt. Russ Scalf/U.S. Air Force/UPI
Airmen from the 303rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron perform deck landing qualification training on the U.S. Naval Ship Washington Chambers, near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on June 27, 2017. Photo by Master Sgt. Russ Scalf/U.S. Air Force/UPI

May 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. military is warning its pilots to watch out for high-powered laser attacks from a Chinese air base in eastern Africa.

Officials say there have been multiple events "involving a high-power laser" just 2,400 feet from the base in Djibouti, a small country on the Horn of Africa.

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Pentagon officials have warned pilots to "use extreme caution when transiting near this area."

Chinese military officials said the lasers have not targeted U.S. aviators -- but instead might have been used to scare off birds near the base or disrupt potential spy drones. Beijing also noted that China's a signatory to the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which bans the use of lasers that can cause permanent blindness.

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"The Chinese and US bases in Djibouti are really close, so one could disturb the other if the two sides don't have a proper communication mechanism," Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the South China Morning Post.

Former U.S. Air Force Pacific commander and research analyst Trey Meeks, though, said China's actions could be viewed as "harassment."

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"These incidents are not surprising as they represent an act just short of war, but indicate gross, intentional negligence, as well as complete disregard for aviation safety and international norms," Meeks told The Wall Street Journal.

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The United States has a large air base in Djibouti that holds about 4,000 service members, and the U.S. Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at what's known as Camp Lemonnier. The base is used to conduct security force assistance and counter-terrorism operations in Africa and Yemen.

China announced plans to build a military outpost in Djibouti in 2015, and formally opened the base last August -- just eight miles from the U.S. base.

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