By Lisa Barron
President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa later this month could be one of the most expensive of his tenure, costing the government as much as $100 million.
According to a confidential internal planning document obtained by The Washington Post, hundreds of Secret Service agents will be dispatched to secure facilities in Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, which the first family will visit from June 26 to July 3.
A Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship, with a fully staffed medical trauma center, will be stationed offshore in case of an emergency.
In addition, military cargo planes will airlift in 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks carrying bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the Obamas will stay. And fighter jets will fly in shifts to provide around the clock coverage over the president’s airspace.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama also had planned to take a Tanzanian safari during the trip, which would have required a special counterassault team to carry sniper rifles in the event of a threat from wild animals, the Post reported, citing the document.
But the safari was canceled in favor of a trip to Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner, officials told the newspaper.
The Post noted that when it first asked White House officials about the safari last week, they said no final decision had been made, adding that a White House official said Thursday that the cancellation was not related to the newspaper’s inquiries.
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also traveled to Africa multiple times. A report from the Government Accountability Office, according to the Post, showed that Clinton’s 1998 trip to six African nations cost the federal government at least $42.7 million.
Obama’s overseas travels — he will visit Northern Ireland and Germany next week — come as government agencies, including the Secret Service, face spending cuts mandated by the sequester.
The Secret Service reportedly has had to cut $84 million, and this spring the agency canceled public tours of the White House in order to save $74,000 a week in overtime.
In total, the Obamas’ Africa trip could cost $60 million to $100 million, a person familiar with planning for the journey told the Post.
“The infrastructure that accompanies the president’s travels is beyond our control,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told the newspaper. “The security requirements are not White House-driven. They are Secret-Service-driven.”
Rhodes said the emerging democracies on the president’s itinerary are crucial partners in regional security conflicts. Obama will hold bilateral meetings with each country’s leader in an effort to forge stronger economic ties. He will reportedly also highlight global health programs, including HIV/AIDS prevention.
According to the internal document, Obama will spent a night in Dakar, Senegal, two nights in Johannesburg, a night in Cape Town, and one night in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Among the 56 vehicles for the trip are parade limousines, a specialized communications vehicle, a truck that jams radio frequencies around the presidential motorcade, a fully loaded ambulance, and a truck for X-ray equipment.
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