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The United States is promising to hold China to account for what officials describe as a dangerous and reckless use of lasers near a U.S. military base in Africa.
“There will be near-term and long-term consequences,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday when asked about Beijing’s use of high-powered, military-grade lasers to repeatedly target U.S. aircraft flying over the east African country of Djibouti.
According to U.S. defense officials, the lasers were fired from the Chinese military base in Doraleh on at least three occasions, resulting in minor eye injuries for two American pilots.
"They are very serious incidents," Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters Thursday.
"This activity poses a true threat to our airmen," she said, noting the United States has lodged a formal protest with the Chinese government. "We expect China to investigate it thoroughly."
China did not immediately respond to the accusation but has complained in the past about foreign military spy planes flying over its Djibouti outpost, sources familiar with the situation said.
The U.S. military issued a warning to pilots about the use of lasers in Djibouti in a notice that was posted last month on the Federal Aviation Administration web site, urging them to use "extreme caution."
Pentagon officials warn the continued use of such military grade lasers could cause serious harm to air crews and threaten the safety of the surrounding area. They said while there had been some similar instances in the past, China's use of the laser has increased over the past several weeks. That, along with the injuries to U.S. airmen, caused rising concern, they said.