The US military could gain access to the self-declared state of Somaliland’s Berbera port and airfield, The South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday.
The report came after President Biden ordered the deployment of up to 500 US troops to Somalia, gearing up for an escalation in the US war against al-Shabaab. Last week, top Pentagon officials visited Somaliland, which is a de facto independent state inside the internationally recognized borders of Somalia.
Included in the US delegation was Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the head of US Africa Command (AFRICOM). Townsend and other officials toured the port and airfield in Berbera and met with Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi.
“That assessment and this visit are a part of routine efforts to assess potential operating locations to be able to prepare for contingencies, exercise readiness or adjust force posture as needed,” AFRICOM said in a readout of Townsend’s trip.
Bihi recently made a trip to Washington, where he “requested the US government to recognize Somaliland and have maritime and security cooperation to deter China’s influence.”
China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, and has been investing in infrastructure projects in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere on the continent, which the US sees as a threat to its influence.
It’s unlikely that the US would recognize Somaliland as an independent state due to its relationship with Somalia’s Mogadishu-based government, but it still may gain access to the port. The interest in Berbera signals the US plans to further escalate its war in Somalia.