At least two American pilots suffered eye injuries last month when they were exposed to “military-grade laser beams” while flying over the African nation of Djibouti.
The Pentagon believes the lasers came from a Chinese military base there, and has filed a formal diplomatic protest with Beijing over the matter.
The military issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) this week, warning pilots of “unauthorized laser activity” and urging them to “exercise extreme caution” when flying over Djibouti.
China is among the 100+ nations to sign the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, but has been accused of using them in the past.
“This activity poses a true threat to our airmen,” said State Department spokeswoman Dana White, who on Thursday confirmed the department had urged China to launch an investigation into the matter.
There are about 4,000 Americans stationed in Djibouti at Camp Lemonnier, which is the largest US military base in Africa. Troops last week were forced to halt air operations after a series of “accidents” involving aircraft.
Camp Lemonnier is a critically important location in the fight against terror given its proximity to Yemen and Somalia, where the US military regularly targets terrorists in airstrikes.
China built its very first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, located just 8 miles from Camp Lemonnier. “US officials have long suspected that Beijing’s intention is to monitor the sensitive US operations there,” notes The Wall Street Journal.
China has refused to comment on the laser attacks, but has complained about foreign planes flying over its base.
“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,” said former Air Force Colonel Trey Meeks. “I would certainly view it as harassment.”
Another official said the military also believes China is using lasers to distract US pilots flying over the South China Sea.