US Doesn’t Need Ethiopia in its War on Terror in the Horn of Africa

The Trump administration would be wise to delink its counterterrorism strategy from the Ethiopian regime, which barely clings to power by a state of emergency decree.

War on Terror in the Horn of Africa
The Ethiopian regime has long been a beneficiary of U.S. aid largesse for its counterterrorism cooperation. But Ethiopia’s counterterrorism role has been more self-serving. If not, “We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab (with the full support of Ethiopia) for a decade, why haven’t we won?”


Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited the Middle East and Africa to “reaffirm key U.S. military alliances” and engage with strategic partners.” Mattis only visited the tiny nation of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa where the U.S. maintains its largest military base. Ethiopia was conspicuously absent from the “strategic partner” lineup.

In September 2014, Barack Obama underscored the vital importance of Ethiopia in the U.S. war on terrorism. He noted that cooperation with Ethiopia “is making a difference” and that the “partnerships that we have formed with countries like Ethiopia are going to be critical to our overall efforts to defeat terrorism.”

In July 2015, during his state visit, Obama called Ethiopia an “outstanding partner” in the fight against terrorism in the Horn and a “key partner” in resolving the crises in South Sudan. He praised Ethiopia for being “a major contributor to U.N. peacekeeping efforts”, and for its unique role in “contribut(ing) more (peacekeeping) troops than any other country in Africa.”

The Mattis visit to Djibouti comes as the U.S. intensifies its military pressure on al-Shabaab, the terrorist group in Somalia with ties to al-Qaeda, which has been fighting for over a decade to establish an Islamic state and force out African Union peacekeeping troops.

Late last month, President Trump ordered airstrikes against al-Shabaab and approved a Department of Defense proposal “to provide additional precision fires” to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces.

U.S. military command for Africa (AFRICOM) announced last week that a contingent from the 101st Airborne Division has been deployed in Somalia, the first since 1994, to assist the Somali government with logistical and training support.

In 2017,  there have been no public statements by the Trump administration on Ethiopia’s frontline role in the fight against terrorism.  There has been no mentioned Ethiopia as ally or “strategic partner”, and no acknowledgment of Ethiopia’s role in maintaining regional stability. There has been no hint of re-opening the U.S. drone base, closed down in January 2016, used to surveil and launch strikes on al-Shabaab.  Mattis’ Djibouti visit, conspicuously avoiding Ethiopia, could suggest that the Trump Administration may not view Ethiopia as an indispensable counterterrorism partner in the Horn.

The only palpable evidence of any link between the ruling regime in Ethiopia and the Trump administration appears to be vague assurances by Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla) in February asserting, “Ethiopia is one of the strategic allies of the US in the region in peace and security and the relationship will continue under the new Trump administration.” In 2007, Inhofe zealously opposed legislation designed to promote democracy and human rights in Ethiopia.

In January, the Ethiopian regime showed its deep concern over potential changes in U.S. policy under the Trump administration by hiring SGR Government Relations, Lobbying (Washington, D.C) at a cost of $150,000 per month (for a total contract price of $1.8 million). In my letter to Trump, I argued that it made no sense for a regime whose population, some 20 million of them, is facing dire famine to spend nearly $2 million on lobbying.

Is the Trump administration signaling that Ethiopia is not a “key partner” or “critical to our overall efforts to defeat terrorism” in the Horn region?

One of the four questions on Africa the Trump transition team posed to the State Department in January may offer a glimpse into Trump’s Horn policy:

We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?”

This manifestly simple question is pregnant with profundity. When the regime in Ethiopia invaded Somalia in January 2007, then-leader Meles Zenawi declared that it could “take a week or a maximum of two weeks” to wipe out the Islamists, “stay there for a few days to help the transitional government in preserving stability then pull out our troops.”  The “Islamists” were “wiped out,” only to be replaced by the murderous al-Shabaab.

Ethiopian troops left Somalia in January 2009 leaving a good part of that country tightly in the hands of al-Shabaab and sundry other Islamist insurgents.

In 2014, up to 4,300 Ethiopian troops returned to Somalia as part of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In the summer of 2016, Ethiopia began to withdraw some 3,000 non-AMISOM soldiers out of south-central Somalia following mass uprising against the ruling regime in various part of Ethiopia.  Al-Shabaab swiftly recaptured and consolidated its control over a number of towns held by the departing Ethiopian and AU soldiers. Despite military pressure, al-Shabaab continues to attack AU bases and carry out suicide bombings.

The cost of fighting  al-Shabaab has increased from an annual $300 million in 2009 to $900 million in 2016. The African Union (AU), which has 22,000 troops deployed in Somalia drawn from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti, is scheduled to complete its mission by 2020.

President-elect Trump accused Obama of “losing the war on terrorism” and pledged to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and other terrorist groups and armies. On April 14, Trump authorized dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal on ISIS targets in Afghanistan. Is al-Shabaab next?

The Trump administration would be wise to delink its counterterrorism strategy from the Ethiopian regime, which barely clings to power by a state of emergency decree. Ethiopia’s involvement in the domestic affairs of Somalia has made the military and political situation in Somalia worse, and resulted in documented large-scale war crimes and human rights violations.

Ethiopia’s involvement is arguably the principal galvanizing cause for the radicalization  of large numbers of Somali youth flocking into the of al-Shabaab and other militant Islamic groups.

The Ethiopian regime has long been a beneficiary of U.S. aid largesse for its counterterrorism cooperation. But Ethiopia’s counterterrorism role has been more self-serving. If not, “We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab (with the full support of Ethiopia) for a decade, why haven’t we won?”

Alemayehu (Al) Mariam is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, a constitutional lawyer and Senior Editor of the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies.

25 thoughts on “US Doesn’t Need Ethiopia in its War on Terror in the Horn of Africa

  1. ወይ ስስዐ ኣመሪካ! Here we go, back to square one in Somalia. One dead another two American soldiers wounded. The drone/bomber bombing, and Weyane ከዳምነት does not materialize to solve the Somalia problem to date. ቅልጽም ትራምፕ’ኸ እንታይ’ዩ ከርእየና? ግዜ ዝምልሶ’ዩ። ግና እቲ ኣንፈት እኳ ድሮ ከርእየና ጀሚሩ እንሆ። ወታሃደራት ኣመሪካን ወያነን ኣብ ጎደናታት ሞቃድሾ ክጉቶቱ ከም ዝረኣና ናይ ትማሊ ተዘክሮ’ዩ፣ ሕጂ’ኸ ንሱ ድዩ ክድገም? እቲ ንዘመነ ክልተን፣ ቡሽ፣ ኦባማ፣ መለስ/ኢትዮጵያ፣ ከንያ፣ ጁፕቲ፣ዩጓንዳ፣ ብሩንዲ ካሎትን ዘረብረበ ወረራ ሶማል ትራምፕ እንታይ ታኣምር’ዩ ክገብር? ሞት፣ ቅትለት፣ ስደት፣ ዕንወት ሶማልን ህዝባን’ምበር ካልእ ኣይከርእየናን እዩ። ፍታሕ ሶማል ብሶማላውያን ጥራሕ’ዩ ዝመጽእ። ወራርን ተጣላዓይን ግን ሓደ እዮም። እቲ ወራሪ ክሳብ ፈጺሙ ዝስዓር/ሓሩጩ ዝውድእ ይፍትን፣ እቲ ተቛማራይ ድማ ከምኡ ስዓቱ ክሳብ ዝብላዕ ይጣላዕ። In any event I am glad that Weyane is thrown away its use in Somalia like a broken chair by the Trump admin. Hope it will lead to its demise from power in Ethiopia too. መኖር ደጉ ሁሉ ያሳያል! ግዜ ቡዙሕ ከርእየና እዩ።

    1. Why do people like you and this ignorant writer read something that’s not written is beyond me but let me help you. Somalia president was just in Addis to forge a relationship just this week, free access of goods, training the military as well as to prepare for the London conference so IGAD can speak with one voice. What that also means, pentagon budget that’s being prepared will make up for the lose of $$ from the state department, and more. Truthfully, not even Trump knows what he is doing but few Senators will not stand for anything less than properly funded IGAD, Ethiopia or Somalia. The kind of urgency Washington needs to defeat terrorists in the Horn can only be delivered by the one and only Agazi.

      1. Aid groups praise Trump’s decision to keep funding Africa

        U.S. President Donald Trump is set to sign off on a budget deal for the remainder of the financial year.
        Trump has been forced to back-track on his plans to cut the humanitarian aid allocation by 28 percent.

        The decision comes after the U.S. Congress voted against his proposal to cut aid to Africa.

        During budget negotiations, Democrats managed to persuade Republicans to include 990 million dollars of additional spending to help counter famine-like conditions in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.

        Aid agencies are praising this decision. It covers about a quarter of the United Nations global appeal for the four countries.

        The U.S. is the largest contributor to the UN, paying 22 percent of the organization’s 5.4 billion-dollar annual budget.

      2. There is a real world out there far beyond your own that you cannot even imagine it. Prof All is beyond your comprehension. And most of us here are simply… Eritreans — from the country of the few, humble, self reliant and the brave.

        1. The Prof is a hater and ideologue who doesn’t or can’t bring himself to admit anything good happening in Ethiopia cuz of his disagreement with EPRDF. Even if that means, lining up with shabo, even if that means civil war in the home land and at some point lost credibility by most Ethiopians to speak on behalf of anyone but few bastards in the diaspora circle. This is the same idiot who questioned Meles during the war because Eritreans are “our people”, Isayas should be allowed to lead Ethiopia and my favorite was “woyane is more enemy that shabo”. It’s fitting if you like and admire this prof who is on his dying bed.

          1. TPLFites like you got no credibility here to speak about Prof Al. Contrary to what you said about Prof Al, he is an accomplished professor, respected defense lawyer and constitutional law scholar. Heck, he even argued in front the US Supreme Court. So, your lies aren’t going to work here.

            Now, Prof Al does not just disagree with TPLF, he despises them. You should know that one only disagrees with whom s/he respects. And Prof Al knew long ago that TPLF is made up of ethnocentric tugs hell bent on destroying his beloved country – Ethiopia. And yes, he correctly warned his fellow Ethiopians about the TPLF war against Eritrea…. and guess what, now they all came around with their heads held down. I am sure, somewhere deep down, he feel vindicated.

            So when it comes to TPLF, Prof Al is 1000% right.

          2. The best thing happening to Ethiopia is in the energy sector. If it can export electricity to new destinations South Sudan and Somaliland like it announced this week that will be a huge thing for Ethiopia economically but also prestige wise as African countries are not known to export electricity.

            It will mean Ethiopia provides energy to Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti and Somaliland. A rather important development that is.

            Eritrea on the other hand has quietly undergone a quiet miracle transformation of sorts by its extensive dam building and resilence work and as the sole country in the region has avoided the famine and misery befalling its neighbors. Not a small accomplishment.

            Ofcourse Ethiopia’s main threat is internal revolts while Eritrea’s is demographics.

            The Ethiopian dam project if not handled correctly could lead to a huge regional war and massive upheaval that would leave no country in the region unscathed.

      3. Balance

        Are you just dumb and ignorant or you don’t read the newspapers?

        President Trump has proposed cutting the aid budget drastically and while the humanitarian budget might be saved by congress it is the developmnt aid that will be cut(the good part of meat).

        In the Horn of Africa region what counts for U.S.A is our military base in Djibouti, Ethiopia counts because it is the seat of AU and is a large country in the region and it is a regional military partner, Somaliland because of its democracy and strategic location and its close ties to Djibouti and Ethiopia, Eritrea because of its strategic location and Gulf Ties, Somalia because of its threat to the region and the world with its terrorism and corruption.

        ALL countries matter, depending on the situation some countries matter to the USA more than others. For instance right now Eritrea, Djibouti and Somaliland, are hot topics at the Pentagons highest levels due to the war in Yemen and the Israeli/Egyptian Gas findings in the mediterreanean ocean cloe to the Suez canal. The entire red sea and Aden sea are red hot as far as American Strategic Planning goes.

        President Trump will likely back off from intervening in Somalia perfectly happy with minimum costs in that theater as long as the terror in Somalia stays in Somalia and not say, Minneapolis or some other heavily Somalian inhabited city.

          1. brother
            This obtuse MLLT diehard is the one who is spamming here and other Eritrean sites with childish and often bizarre arguments which normally don´t qualify in any civilized forums. He is in a mission of course spreading the MLLT propaganda with outlandish statements nurtured and cultivated in a wicked mind set. He is slowly turning this grand forum and others to a MLLT and Weyane play ground. He is writing on purpose albeit he is a half baked Weyanay who got his trade in a Dedebit style scholarship. He and a few like minded MLLTies uses all available means 24/7 in all Eritrean sites with different creepy alias to just promote their nefarious “cause”

          2. Exactly Alem !!! Good point I have followed him many years .you right!!!Off course Sentiko is keep coming with different nick name( all Eritreans website but the same ignorant/big headed idea like his masters ( those are sentiko common nick name so far in TN !! sentiko / sheger addis/ Ethio/ Balance !!

          3. Off course Sentiko is keep coming with different nick name but the same ignorant/big headed idea like his masters ( those are sentiko common nick name so far !! sentiko / sheger addis/ Ethio/ Balance !!

      4. KKKKKKKKKK Mr /Mis/ sentiko / sheger addis/ Ethio/ Balance TPLF Agent Mr. logic ( i don’t know what will be your nick name tomorrow) who is talking?? I’m looking for a word or term that describes you!! How long have you been in U.S? your comparison is so…………………………No comment you are just a waste !!!! Are you telling TN to read only “Addis zemen “!!! The Answer is NO!!!!! Are they any schools around your area?? Go solve first Oromia and Amhara states problem then you’ll talk about other thing (e.g,peace in Somalia)!! Don’t make any sense if the Syrians trying to solve now Iraqis problem or Yemenis problem!!! It is the same thing for TPLF too!!!

    2. Peace and stability in the horn is impossible without active involvement and leadership of Ethiopia and trump knows that . Whether America likes it or not, Ethiopia with its immense natural and human resource will remain the regional power . One needs to understand that the horn of Africa needs a strong nation and I think Ethiopian has been playing excellent role in peace keeping, mediation and representing of African interest in major international arenas. In order to maintain its role as regional super power, Ethiopia needs to settle the border issue with Eritrea (accordig to the EEBC ruling) because Ethiopia traditional strategic antagonistic like Egypt are using (misusing) the no-war no-peace situation to undermine Ethiopians development endeavor. The government also needs to solve the social unrest it has been facings ince few years. Ethiopian small neighbours need to work towards better political and economic integration with ethiopia. In my view that the only way to go forward. Emby bravado and not willing to see the facts on the ground is simply not helpful for the new adminstration and for the horn..

      1. If regional power means greater number of population, Ethiopia fits to that. Otherwise, Israel will be the least powerful in the middle east. No. That kind of definition simply doesn’t hold any water. Projection of power in any region rests on the economic and military power strength. Tiny UAE is projecting power beyond its area of influence mainly because of its wealth meaning firepower.

        Other than that, I don’t see how one can put Ethiopia in to the regional equation of power as it is the least developed nation in the region and with an economy that is small compared to its population size than any country in the sub-sahara. Kenya is the undisputed economic power in East and Horn of Africa. When we look at the GDP (economy per person), sanctioned and isolated Eritrea is well ahead of Ethiopia anyway. When it comes to military might, Ethiopia may have more firepower but it is tiny Eritrea that defeats her in two occasions – during the Derg and Weyane time. If Ethiopia was a real deal in this region, it could have dealt Eritrea since or it shouldn’t be kicked out of Somalia by a rag tag militia of Al-Shabab.

        So whatever the US administration may put it and call Ethiopia the regional power, we really know who the real regional power is – the people and country that never begs, never defeated, small in number, resilient to challenges and most importantly owns an economy that grows despite sanctions and isolation. Like it or not, Eritrea, just like Israel, is the region’s ultimate power and it will do all it can to contain Ethiopia in a prolonged state of emergency to weaken it further.

        1. Lol, are you for real? Where in Eritrea do you see cooperation with other nations and huge development progress? They’re progressing faster than us, I don’t even think we have a higher gdp per capita anymore.

          1. Duse
            a Weyane dressed like an Eritrean, try it some where else Ayte jordi or ayte MLLT too cheap to score some points with your foolish and preposterous statements. You can not even write a
            coherent simple sentence to corroborate your point ( on how is the land of 20 million beggars a land which bases its very existence on the benevolence of others is better and presumably regional power) except to parrot some absurd and bizarre remarks let alone respond to what Meaza wrote with composure.

      2. Ayte Uhum
        Are you a new Agazi in town, which Ethiopia are talking about the Weyane Ethiopia or the proper Ethiopia ruled by the real Ethiopians there is a huge difference between the two. Ayte MLLT boy. The only two trade you have mastered in the continent is bragging, empty bravado and begging. You can not even provide food at least once a day to you destitute and unfortunate people under the brute MLLT rule, you dare to boast, no peace in the Horn with out Ethiopian participation. Talking about self -aggrandization, you are confusing regional or super powre simply with the number of population, that fits only according Dedebit´s way of observing things or else being a regional or super power has hardly any correlation with the number of inhabitants a given country has.

  2. Elias Amare‏ @eliasamare: Just like its predecessors — Haile Selassie & Mengistu — TPLF regime of Ethiopia committed a strategic blunder on Eritrea. Inevitable karma.

    1. Big NO, when it comes to Shabo, Woyane is the best and the most wonderful handler that ETH can produce

      1. Really?

        By the manner the weyane will finally fall, you’ll learn who its creator to begin with, was!

      2. You lot are funny where do you get your niks, say gebretsadik, desalow etc what is synii Mooti always complex with identity, god have mercy on your people!1

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