Could last month’s first airstrike under the Biden Administration be an indication of a change in the Horn of Africa or is this just another strike to put a band-aid on a gushing wound?
July 23, 2021, Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote a letter to President Joe Biden to challenge a July 20 airstrike near Galkayo, Somalia, against suspected members of Al-Shabaab.
Pentagon spokesperson Cindi King said AFRICOM had the power to authorize the response under the military’s “collective self-defense” justification. Despite the explanation, Omar wasn’t satisfied given that Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, instructed the military and CIA to gain White House permission before attacks in Somalia and Yemen. In her letter, she asks, “How does the Department of Defense define “collective self-defense” in the context of the July 20th strike?”
The target, Al-Shabaab, is a known Islamic extremist group carrying out terrorist attacks across borders and extorting millions from taxing citizens, ransoms, and extortion. They remain Somalia’s biggest threat, according to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
March 12, 2021, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2568 (2021) stated, “that while Al Shabaab remains the most immediate and pressing security and stability threat to Somalia, it and armed opposition groups will not be defeated by military means alone.” Asking partners and stakeholders to address Al-Shabaab’s organized crime, illicit finance, access to and trafficking in small arms and light weapons, procurement, justice, and propaganda activities.
Jay Bahadur, former head of the U.N. Panel of Experts on Somalia, explained in an interview last year that Al-Shabaab has a pervasive spy network, assassinating people at will, and maintaining authority through terror. “If you count affiliates, spies, facilitators, etc, you’re looking at a large chunk of the Somali population.”
The strike undoubtedly aligns with the fight against global terror, especially since Al-Shabaab killed an American soldier and two American civilians last year at Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya near the Somalia border.
However, some wonder if there are discussions underway about the changes taking place in the Horn of Africa since China has all but taken over Djibouti (above ground and under the water). And if so, do these discussions include a new base in Berbera, Somaliland, officially the Republic of Somaliland, an unrecognized sovereign state in the Horn of Africa? And is this first strike part of a bigger plan to move U.S. military operations closer to Somalia?
China’s Strategic Grip on the Horn of Africa
Beijing’s extensive investments in Djibouti span above-ground infrastructure and undersea. They’ve built railways, control the ports, and are building comprehensive undersea telecommunications to support their operations.
It’s been an ongoing concern that with control over the port, all shipments and equipment arriving in Djibouti goes through a Chinese-controlled port including suspected classified cargo heading to the U.S. base, Camp Lemonnier. This means that the Chinese Port Authority can see the whole manuscript of content inside the cargo and inspect it at will.
What has the U.S. done to mitigate this risk?
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is not just about infrastructure. It’s a comprehensive strategy build on small and large networks with links back to China embedded at every level, which create dependence and compliance.
Reuben Brigety, former U.S. ambassador to the African Union, told The Washington Post in 2018 that Djiboutians were up to their necks in debt to China and that in six months, the Djibouti government would hand control of the port to a Chinese company.
Fast forward to 2021, and debt to China makes up over 71% of Djibouti’s GDP, China controls Doraleh Port, where the majority of shipments allowed through come from China, and are processed and handled by the Chinese.
If America is squeezed out of the country, where will it go? Next door.
I “shouted” to President Biden on the South Lawn of the White House.
The Republic of Somaliland’s Strategic Position
Without significant mineral resources and primary industries, Somaliland at least has a great location to offer. And although the UAE recently canceled its plans to set up a military case in Berbera, Russia has announced its interest in staging an army base there with access to a naval port.
With the Chinese having strategically dwarfed American dominance in the region will the U.S. be able to safely maintain its ground in Djibouti?
Is Berbera a possible answer to a drawdown of dependence on the Djibouti location?
Will the Biden Administration, and President Biden himself, get involved to keep consistent high-level engagement in the region to overcome the advantage China has due to its long-term high dollar investment and strategic integration across all sectors?
Journalist, Communications Consultant, and Adjunct Faculty— Washington, D.C.
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