Ethiopia will be among the next African countries getting U.S. military training under a program to support peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations.
Ethiopia was considered for U.S. military training under the original Africa Crisis Response Initiative or ACRI program.
But that plan was scrapped after the outbreak of hostilities between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea in 1998.
Now that the fighting is over, Greg Engle, the Director of the Office of Regional and Security Affairs for Africa at the State Department, said Ethiopian troops will receive peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations training, this time, under a new program replacing ACRI and known as ACOTA, which stands for Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance.
"We have actually discussed the program with the Ethiopians and we do plan to go ahead with the program there. We have met with their chief of defense and agreed it was appropriate to go ahead. There had been consideration of going ahead with Ethiopia under the ACRI program but that was just around the time they entered into their border war with Eritrea. Now that we're through, we hope and trust, with that phase, we're prepared to go forward," Mr. Engle said.
In a VOA interview about likely participants in the new ACOTA peacekeeping training program, neither Mr. Engle nor a senior Pentagon official involved in African affairs mentioned Eritrea as a likely immediate partner for military assistance.
Mr. Engle said the United States has had no talks with Eritrean officials about participation, though he said sometime in the future it could be included.
"We don't think there is an absolute need to provide the same kinds of training necessarily to both countries [Eritrea and Ethiopia]. This certainly isn't training for war-making in any case. It's training for peacekeeping and at some point in the future I think it would be appropriate to go forward with Eritrea," he said.
Diplomatic sources have said plans to develop a military relationship between the United States and Eritrea have been blocked by the detention of two Eritreans who worked for the U.S. Embassy in Asmara. The two were arrested late last year after the United States issued a statement criticizing Eritrea's government for cracking down on political dissent.
Senior U.S. officials have however voiced interest in a closer military relationship with the strategically-positioned Red Sea country. They see Eritrea as a key frontline state in the war against terrorism.