The UAE could be seeking to increase its military reach after leasing the airport in the Somali port town of Berbera, according to reports.
Bloomberg cited Somali foreign minister Saad Ali Shire as confirming the 25-year lease of the base, previously used by the Soviet Union and US during the Cold War, in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland.
Berbera is about 260km south of Yemen where UAE troops are part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in the country’s civil war.
Ali Shire was quoted as saying the base could be used by the UAE armed forces “in general”, with the preliminary deal placing no limits on the operations they can carry out.
However, the agreement states that it can be used by the UAE air force alone and not allies.
“The base will start from the airport,” senior presidential economic adviser Ahmed Hassan Arwo told Bloomberg. “Later on, if they have need for a naval base they can do this extension, but it will be negotiated.”
The base could be the UAE’s second in Africa after reports of one being established in nearby Eritrea.
The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea said in October there were signs of a new port being built adjacent to Eritrea’s Assab International Airport in satellite imagery.
The group said a vessel owned by Abu Dhabi-based National Marine Dredging Co. frequented Assab from September 2015.
It also documented construction of a military base at the airport’s southeastern end, with tanks and artillery seen in April and May last year.
The monitors speculated the Saudi-led coalition was compensating Eritrea for the use of it airspace and territorial waters.