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U.S. Pilots in Horn of Africa Injured by Chinese Lasers, Says Pentagon

This photo taken March 13, 2018, shows a night view of the port of Djibouti. (AP Photo/Elias Messeret)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon said Thursday that there have been “very serious incidents” of the Chinese interfering with flights at the U.S. base in Djibouti by pointing laser beams into the cockpits.

“There have been two minor injuries,” spokeswoman Dana White told a press briefing. “This activity poses a true — a threat to our airmen.” The C-130 crew members suffered eye injuries.

White said the U.S. government has “formally demarched the Chinese government, and we’ve requested that the Chinese investigate these incidents.”

The U.S. has had a military presence in Djibouti since 2002; the Horn of Africa location at Camp Lemonnier allows for counterterrorism operations and regional training.

In 2017, China opened up an outpost in Djibouti as well, close to the American base.

White didn’t have a total number of the laser-pointing incidents, but “it’s enough that we’re concerned, that we demarched them and we’ve asked them to investigate it. It’s a serious matter. And so we’re taking it very seriously.”

On the proximity of Chinese base to the American base, White said “these are sovereign questions” and “the Djibouti government is free to work with who they want to.”

“Our concern is the safety of our service members,” she added.

The Federal Aviation Administration has documented numerous cases of laser pointers being directed at commercial aircraft; a laser beam in the eye can incapacitate pilots.

A Notice to Airmen issued by the U.S. military on April 14 warned pilots “there have been multiple lazing events involving a high-power laser in the vicinity of N1135.70 E04303.14. Use extreme caution when transiting near this area.”

China, which is known to have produced high-power laser devices or “dazzlers” though a signatory of the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, may also be deploying the laser from offshore.

The Chinese government accused the U.S. of “making up rumors” about laser attacks.