US doesn’t need Ethiopia in its war on terror in the Horn of Africa – BY ALEMAYEHU G. MARIAM

9 mins read


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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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, 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.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.



  1. The article is informative and provokes the need to have exchanges of ideas and views and even to come up with policy -oriented papers .

    1. But. I do believe that trying to draw a kind of conclusion that US does not need Ethiopia is not realistically convincing. When I say not realistically convincing , I do mean that the very game of international politics and the arena of diplomacy is not as simple as we see some seemingly different moves from what we have witnessed before.
    2 I do not think it is a strong argument and conclusion to draw that US does not need Ethiopia. Observing or hearing or reading about some rhetoric and certain seemingly new activities in the Horn Of Africa does not strongly imply that US does not need Ethiopia. It is highly simplistic approach and conclusion. US can adjust and readjust its own policy toward that part of Africa. The very idea that the importance of Ethiopia is becoming less is if and only if we simply see certain minor shifts within the main framework of a foreign policy. Ethiopia , the second populous in Africa , next to Nigeria and with the ability to be the major stabilizing or destabilizing power in the sub -region cannot be considered as not-needed by the US or any other power which has interest in that part of Africa both in terms of terrorism and other respects of foreign policy.

    3. I do not know how President Trump who could not hide his interest to work with any dictator as long that dictator puts his or her self in line with Trump’s power of dominance and interest could afford not to work with TOLF/EPRDF. Aren’t we witnessing extending his invitation to the President of the Philippines who publicly and proudly declared the killing of his own citizens without due process of law? Do we really believe that President Trump who run and won on his highly nationalistic agenda would be interested about the violation of human rights of the Ethiopia people? Do we really believe that he is going to abandon working closely with TPLF/EPRDF without seeing the very emergence of opposition which strongly shakes the balance of power ?

    4. I hate to say but I have to say that we expect our intellectuals especially the ones who are very close to international politics, international relations and diplopy to go deep and wide whenever they deal with issues of very serious and complex like the one in the Horn of Africa. This is because the way we observe, describe, analyze and conclude our thoughts has its own positive or negative or distorted influence on those who may be interested to learn.

    With due respect!

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  2. I wish this dear old countryman did not write this article. We can and should write all about the atrocities the were and being still committed by the despotic regime over there but to try to convince Good Ole USA sour or severe ties is a misguided desire. You remember the 1976-77? That was a misguided policy by the then Carter administration to start shunning that demon Mengistu. Then there was the Soviet waiting at the door to get in and you have China that is already half way in. The Soviet Union did not give a hoot about democracy and China does not give a damn about the human rights violation that has been going on for decades now. The Soviet Union had a military base at Berbera then and now China has a sprawling military compound in Djibouti and has invested billions already. I think we should be sensible and very careful in what we say and write when it comes to the relationship of the USA with the regime of the old country. ‘I live at a safe distance therefore I can write or say anything’ does not mix well in any effort.

  3. I think the US policy makers and the president Trump administration have taken note of the developments in Ethiopia since the past couple years. The developments in the past couple of years clearly show that the minority Tigrayan ethnic dictatorship has become increasingly weak and unstable. The supposed stability and peace were the main considerations in shaping the US foreign policy regarding the TPLF regime. The US and other western countries wrongly believed and considered the TPLF rule stable and a regional partner in the war on terrorism. They ignored or overlooked the violations of the regime due to the urgency of their war on terrorism. Now that the superficial stability the of TPLF regime is exposed and it is faced with a widespread domestic insurgency and unrest, its value as a reliable regional partner has fallen. However, free, democratic and post TPLF Ethiopia will be an important country to cooperate and pursue mutual interests with. Generally,the importance of the TPLF regime will be down graded in the US foreign policy. The Trump administration has already sent its special forces into Somalia in the after math of the withdrawal of the TPLF forces to combat domestic insurgency and unrest. The TPLF leaders have been earning millions of US dollars for what can be called as their mercenary roles in Somalia.

  4. Ethiopia do not want war b/c we already
    declare war on poverty .
    Give another 25 years you will see what
    Ethiopia look like .
    We are sorry for Alemayehu by the way did you read the comment
    that point out the resemblance of your face with that of the Horse .
    The fake Engineer Yilekal has gone before he fulfilled his promise
    to you How in the world do you except to be Prime Minister ?

  5. Professor Fes AG is fes, you know fes? He is fesam and all he knows is mefsat or farting day and night on paper. He thinks the world runs according Alemayehu Gebremariam’s axis of rotation and he thinks Alemayehu Gebremariam is center of gravity of our universe? Almariam is the cosmos, the creator and the make of the universe. If he says, it must be ? Even if he dreams in his nightmare it is real for him? He also told us Obama will free Ethiopia to TPLF? I have never heard of an empty and phony person like this man. He talk too much and he talk rubbish. Because one USA official visited Djibouti without visiting Ethiopia and for him that means Ethiopia is rejected by USA? AG must be a baby child in a diaper because an adult will never think like this. But there is the one English maxim that says you can not repair an adult. AG is a broken clay and with irreparable damaged brain. Tutultula, kedada

    • Lemlem

      you see things on from Adwa point of view. For Adwna life is too comfortable. Down in Aromia, a mother is bitten while forced to sit on her dead son’s body. A father sees the dead bodies of his three sons killed by your brothers. In prison your uncle is sodomizing men.. etc

      Lemlem, what you care about is that you benefit from the suffering of others. .but . what you eat is blood bread.

      As for farting…. you will soon fart like you never did before… maybe you are already doing it…

  6. Trust me those so called scholars
    in the field of social science are
    good for nothing for the community
    If who contribute something tangible
    to their countries are those scholars from
    the science field . We can notice how they are committed
    to contribute their share in the developmental field .
    the total project cost of the Hospital they are constructing
    is close to $ 150 Millions .
    To the contrary those scholars from social science fields are ended up in spying and lobbying as Agents for Archenemies of Ethiopia. Alemariam , Birrara, Berhnue Getachew are few from many.

  7. The popular uprising and unrest in Ethiopia have weakened the ethno-fascist regime of the TPLF. The United States and the other western financiers and backers of this fascist regime have realized that it will collapse sooner or later. It is not the first time that the US has abandoned its client regimes or allies in the third world. The US has abandoned the former Egyptian dictator Mubarack when the popular uprising got momentum and it became clear that the fall of the regime was inevitable. It is about real politics and a alignment of foreign policy based on a new reality. The fascist and racist Tigrayan regime controlling in Ethiopia has been able to exploit the crisis in Somalia and strengthen its repressive military and security apparatus. No more US dollars would mean almost empty dollar coffers for the leaders of the TPLF.

  8. Lemlem,

    Big butt fart makes up 90% of you and the rest 10% of you is not only an illiterate moron but also a prostitute slave of TPLF members. You have no comprehension of what the good doc wrote. Therefore, you resorted to name calling such as Al is fes, Al claims to be center and creator of universe and cosmos etc, instead of critiquing his claims point by point in an intelligent manner.

    As far as I am concerned, he is 110% spot on. President Trump administration does not need the assistance of brutal dictators such as TPLF led Ethiopian government. All patriotic and democracy loving people all over the globe and especially those from east Africa should go ASAP and weekly thereafter to White House website WE THE PEOPLE SECTION and write a letter explaining in detail why cooperating with murderous Ethiopian government is a deadly, grave mistake.

  9. Well the USA have no perminant friends but only perminant interest. utopia is falling apart as we speak. other forces are emerging in east africa that can easily provide mercenaries, Uganda comes to mind. And Somalia is recovering at alarming rate much to the dismaye of tplf and soon enough somalia may even send peacekeeping forces to good old habasha land.I would not be surprided if the good old USA pick up the scissors and chopped up this dystopia. Don’t forget all the arabs who are breathing down your neck and our good friend Eritrea with too many ports for hire. kkkk

  10. Long live prof. Alemayehu!!!

    My fellow Ethiopians, leave the above substance-less and baseless comments forwarded by the TPLF dogs!!! as the saying goes “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”.

    Lets work together and the results will come soon or later!

    leave them, the truth itself will defend them!!!!

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