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In-Depth Analysis: Behind the U.S.'s decision to abandon military training in Somaliland

Friday June 2, 2023


Mogadishu (HOL) - The U.S. government has, for the first time, unveiled the reasons behind the abrupt cancellation of a significant military training session in Berbera, a strategic coastal city in Somaliland. In a recent conversation with the BBC Somali Service, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Somalia, Larry Andre, shared revealing insights into the matter, sparking a crucial dialogue around the region's geopolitics.

The proposed training, initially slated for early this year, was part of an extensive series of U.S.-led military exercises in East Africa. The plan had a strategic geopolitical objective, aiming to fortify relationships with key African nations, including Botswana, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Djibouti.

But the silence that met the training's abrupt cancellation in late January left observers puzzled and speculation rife. As conjectures swirled, the U.S.'s silence persisted, leaving the precise rationale shrouded in uncertainty — until Ambassador Andre's exclusive interview with the BBC.

"The situation in Somaliland did not permit us to proceed with the training as initially planned," Andre candidly shared. A complex weave of political tensions and escalating conflicts involving the Somaliland administration and local opposition forces culminated in the U.S. abandoning the scheduled training.

The political climate in Somaliland reached its zenith earlier this year. Local traditional elders refused to cooperate with the Hargeisa administration, demanding the withdrawal of its forces from their territories. The resultant discord led to a conflict that has, tragically, claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands.

Given these fraught circumstances, Andre commented, "To conduct military training amidst such turmoil seemed inappropriate. We had to postpone it until conditions became conducive."

Highlighting the depth of initial U.S. commitment to the training, Andre revealed that U.S. Department of Defense officials had even conducted a preliminary visit to Berbera to survey potential training sites and foster relationships with Somaliland leaders.

"Officials from the command of the U.S. forces in Africa, based in Djibouti, visited the port of Berbera to assess the security and capacity of the area," Andre detailed. "Such evaluations are routine for American officials in ports worldwide, especially those in areas of operation or where American forces train."

These revelations underscore the potential geopolitical significance of Berbera's beaches, which were to play host to the American-led military exercise involving U.S. forces and those of six African countries. Over 800 soldiers were poised to participate in these drills.

Yet, the erupting Las Anod conflict, a fraught standoff between the Somaliland government and armed local communities, led to the decision to postpone the training. "We deemed it inappropriate to carry out the training in Berbera amid the ongoing conflict in Las Anod. That's why we cancelled and postponed it," Andre confirmed during his BBC interview.

This significant, albeit postponed, military training forms a critical part of the U.S.-led multinational military training exercise known as Justified Accord. This exercise aims to enhance international cooperation in crisis response and counterterrorism operations and prepare regional partners for UN and African Union-mandated missions. However, the question of when this training will resume remains unanswered, as it is contingent upon the region's return to stability.

In the broader context, this development and its ensuing revelations spotlight the complex, often volatile, interplay between geopolitical strategy, local politics, and regional stability — a story that remains critical for Somaliland and the U.S.


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