Logistics Are Complex for Obama Trip
President’s Visit to Africa Sees Extraordinary Planning
When President Obama makes his first extended trip to sub-Saharan Africa this month, the federal agencies charged with keeping him safe won’t be taking any chances.
Hundreds of U.S. Secret Service agents will be dispatched to secure facilities in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. A Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship, with a fully staffed medical trauma center, will be stationed offshore in case of an emergency.
Military cargo planes will airlift in 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with sheets of bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will stay. Fighter jets will fly in shifts, giving 24-hour coverage over the president’s airspace, so they can intervene quickly if an errant plane gets too close.
The extraordinary security provisions — which will cost the government tens of millions of dollars — are outlined in a confidential internal planning document obtained by The Washington Post. While the preparations appear to be in line with similar travels in the past, the document offers an unusual glimpse into the colossal efforts to protect the U.S. commander-in-chief on trips abroad.
Any journey by the president, such as one scheduled next week for Northern Ireland and Germany, is an immense and costly logistical challenge. But the trip to Africa is complicated by a confluence of factors that could make it one of the most expensive of Obama’s tenure, according to people familiar with the planning.
The first family is making back-to-back stops from June 26 to July 3 in three countries where U.S. officials are providing nearly all the resources, rather than depending more heavily on local police forces, military authorities or hospitals for assistance.
The president and first lady had also planned to take a Tanzanian safari as part of the trip, which would have required the president’s special counterassault team to carry sniper rifles with high-caliber rounds that could neutralize cheetahs, lions or other animals if they became a threat, according to the planning document. But the White House canceled the safari Wednesday after inquiries from The Post about the trip’s purpose and expense, according to a person familiar with the decision.
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also made trips to multiple African nations involving similarly laborious preparations. Bush went in 2003 and 2008, bringing his wife on both occasions. Bush’s two daughters went along on the earlier trip, which included a safari at a game preserve on the Botswana-South Africa border.
“Even in the most developed places of Western Europe, the level of support you need for mass movements by the president is really extraordinary,” said Steve Atkiss, who coordinated travel as special assistant for operations to Bush. “As you go farther afield, to less-developed places, certainly it’s more of a logistical challenge.”
White House and Secret Service officials declined to discuss the details of the security operations, and administration aides cautioned that the president’s itinerary is not finalized.
Obama’s overseas travels come as government agencies, including the Secret Service, are wrestling with mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts. The service has had to slice $84 million from its budget this year, and this spring the agency canceled public White House tours to save $74,000 a week in overtime costs.