March 19, 2012 5:48 am

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Ethiopia, which has benefited for years from American aid, particularly in the military realm, last week raided three military bases in neighboring, tiny Eritrea.

The United States needs to tell Ethiopia to keep its troops out of Eritrea, or aid will be cut off promptly.

Ethiopia, an East African country with a deplorable human rights record and no history of democratic governance, has received more than $2 billion of U.S. aid in the last three years alone. Some of it has been humanitarian or developmental in its genesis. Ethiopia also hosts a U.S. drone base. In part because it spends such a large proportion of its resources on arms, its 83 million people are subject to periodic bouts of famine.

Because Ethiopia is highly militarized and a majority Christian state in the largely Muslim Horn of Africa, the U.S. military likes to work in cooperation with its large armed forces, who number some 200,000. In late 2006 the Ethiopians invaded neighboring Somalia, with American air and intelligence support. They occupied parts of it until they left in frustration in 2009. They invaded Somalia again last year, this time ostensibly as part of African Union peacekeeping, although they maintained an entirely separate command structure from the AU force.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, with only 5 million people, have fought each other intermittently since 1998. The struggle is in principle over a miserable piece of disputed territory, centering on the town of Badme. In fact, the quarrel is in no small part a personal war between Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. Fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea, two of the world’s poorest countries, is a pathetic use of their limited resources, although that factor has not served to stop the conflict.

Unless the United States put the Ethiopians up to the raids, based on dislike of the Afwerki regime for what U.S. intelligence claims is Eritrean support of Islamists in Somalia, the Obama administration must condemn the Ethiopian action publicly and tell the Ethiopians to stay on their side of the border or lose American aid.

Anything short of that is to condone unwarranted and unnecessary warfare between two impoverished countries. That is definitely not a policy the United States should support in the Horn of Africa or anywhere else.

First Published 2012-03-19 04:16:23