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Clinton Pledges Strong Support for Somali Government


On the second day of her official trip to Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed in Nairobi, Kenya to express U.S. solidarity and support for the besieged transitional government in Mogadishu.

In their first face-to-face meeting, Secretary Clinton and President Sharif met behind closed doors for more than two hours at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

After the meeting, America's top diplomat told reporters the United States believes that President Sharif's transitional federal government, or TFG, offers the best hope for curbing extremism and restoring stability in the Horn of African country, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

"I have conveyed to President Sheik Sharif very strong support that President [Barack] Obama and I have for both the peace process and his government," she said. "A strengthened transitional federal government would have positive consequences - not just Somalia, but for the region and the wider global community. The United States and the international community must serve as an active partner in helping the TFG and the people of Somalia confront and ultimately move beyond the conflict and poverty that have gripped their country."

President Sharif, a moderate Islamist, was part of the Islamist-led opposition that fought to topple the previous government and force the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia. Sheik Sharif and his faction broke ranks with hard-liners and became president of Somalia's transitional federal government in January under a peace process mediated by the United Nations.

Clinton said the Somali leader is eager for more humanitarian and security assistance from the international community so that normal life in Somalia can resume.

"I particularly appreciated Sheik Sharif's asking for help in returning children to school and medical supplies to re-open hospitals and giving the people of Somalia, who have suffered so much, the services that they deserve," she said.

Clinton also praised the work of the 4,300-member African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM. She says the United States has provided $150 million during the past two years to the peacekeeping effort and has promised that more aid will be given to expand the mission.

AMISOM troops from Uganda and Burundi have been deployed in Mogadishu to guard key sites in the capital against insurgent attacks led by al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked extremist group. The militant Somali group has been fighting to overthrow the transitional government since 2007.

Al-Shabab controls key regions in southern Somalia and much of the capital Mogadishu. Western intelligence officials say al-Shabab is striving to turn Somalia into a virulently anti-West Islamic state and home for Islamic extremists from around the world.

Hundreds of foreign fighters are currently believed to be in Somalia to back al-Shabab in street battles against government forces. Some foreigners are said to acting as field commanders, other as instructors at several terrorist training centers set up in al-Shabab-controlled areas of Somalia. Western governments have also been alarmed by reports that Somalis recruited from North America, Europe and Australia are being trained in these camps to carry out attacks in Somalia as well as in other countries in the Horn of Africa and in their homelands.

To prevent al-Shabab from seizing political power in Somalia, the United States has offered financial and military aid to President Sharif's government. Washington recently has acknowledged sending a shipment of about 40 tons of weapons and ammunition to Somalia. U.S. officials say additional shipments of arms may soon be sent to Mogadishu.

Secretary Clinton again accused Somalia's northern neighbor, Eritrea, of funding and supplying weapons to al-Shabab. The United States has threatened to take action against the government in Asmara, including possible sanctions.

Speaking to the Somali media on Thursday, al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamed Rage, also known as Ali Dhere, criticized the Nairobi meeting, describing President Sharif and his supporters as "slaves for America".

Policy advisor Colin Thomas-Jensen at the Washington-based Enough Project says that while he supports American diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Somalia, he has deep concerns about the United States being viewed as a military backer of the TFG.

"One of the ways in which the extremists have been able to gain power in Somalia is they have been able to cloak their agenda in Somali nationalism, which appeals to many Somalis, whereas the violent extremism that they espouse does not. And when you have the United States, an actor that is not trusted, lining up in support in a very public way of this transitional government, you certainly do create fodder for those who are attempting to portray Sheik Sharif as a puppet of the West. And I think you do ease the recruitment of extremists to fight the TFG and potentially threaten the U.S. and other targets in the region," said Thomas-Jensen.

Earlier Thursday in downtown Nairobi, Secretary Clinton laid a wreath at a memorial on the site of the U.S. Embassy destroyed by a suicide bombing in 1998.

The blast, which killed more than 200 people, mostly Kenyans, was blamed on al-Qaida operatives, who used Somalia as a hideout and a staging ground for the attack in Nairobi and a near-simultaneous bombing of a U.S. Embassy in Tanzania.


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