U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis boards a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster for a day trip to a U.S. military base in Djibouti from Doha, Qatar, Sunday, April 23, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

Pentagon chief visits African nation home to key US base

April 23, 2017 - 7:26 am

DJIBOUTI (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has arrived in Djibouti (jih-BOO'-tee) to bolster ties with the tiny and impoverished African country that's home to an important base for U.S. counterterrorism forces, including drones.

Mattis is the first Trump administration official to visit Djibouti.

Mattis plans to meet with President Ismail Omar Guelleh (IHSH'-my-ehl OH'-mahr GEH'-luh), and greet U.S. and French troops.

The Pentagon chief is accompanied by Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command.

The U.S. operates drone aircraft from Djibouti for surveillance and combat missions against al-Qaida-affiliated extremists in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.

China is building a military base in Djibouti.

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