US military explores plans to set base in Berbera for Justice Accord

News Somaliland

The U.S. military visited the port of Berbera in the republic of Somaliland on Friday ahead of U.S.-led military training exercises scheduled for next month.

The port of Berbera site survey comes as the U.S. military prepares for Justified Accord 2023—U.S. Africa Command’s (Africom) largest East Africa military training exercise.

“Justified Accord is designed to increase multinational cooperation in crisis response and counterterrorism operations and prepare regional partners for U.N. and African Union-mandated missions. In addition to the port of Berbera, Justified Accord exercises will take place in Botswana, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda with the participation from 20 partner nations, including Somalia,” reads a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu.

“The U.S. military routinely surveys potential operating locations to prepare for contingencies and exercise readiness or adjust force posture as directed.” 

Justified Accord 23, or JA 23, scheduled from Feb. 13-24, brings together more than 20 countries from three continents.

Planning for the East Africa training exercise is led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF) and the Kenya Defence Forces.

In late May 2022, top Pentagon officials toured the newly renovated Berbera port and airfield during a visit to Somaliland to advance “mutual security interests,” according to a press release from Africom.

Retired U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, then commander of US Africa Command, and U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Larry E. André met with Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi in Hargeisa “to discuss expanded and enriched partnership.” Townsend’s visit marked the highest-ranking U.S. military official to visit Somaliland since 1991. 

The visit also came two months after Somaliland President Muse Bihi travelled to Washington to lobby support for independence.  

U.S. defence department officials also surveyed the facilities later that year in August.

David Shinn, an American diplomat and professor, said the U.S. was “clearly interested in investigating the prospects for some kind of military use of the port and large airfield at Berbera on Somaliland’s coast” following the May 2022 decision to redeploy hundreds of American troops to Somalia.

However, Shinn warned Washington’s relationship with Mogadishu complicated the situation. 

The United States does not have official diplomatic relations with Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991. 

“I believe the primary goal is to find a more effective way to counter terrorism in the region, especially al-Shabab in Somalia. Berbera’s airfield would be especially useful for this purpose,” Shinn said.

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