STATE DEPARTMENT —
The United States has filled a diplomatic void in Somalia, swearing in its first ambassador to that country in 25 years.
Ambassador Stephen Schwartz took his oath Monday in Washington, following his Senate confirmation in May.
Schwartz, a senior Foreign Service officer who served as deputy chief of missions in Zambia, will replace James Bishop, who left more than two decades ago as the U.S. embassy came under threat.
The U.S. pulled its diplomatic presence and forces out of Somalia in 1993, after militiamen shot down a U.S. military helicopter, killing 18 soldiers.
The al-Shabab extremist group emerged out of the country's civil chaos of that time. In recent years, the group has been ousted from Somalia's major cities, although it has continued to launch attacks.
"None of us have any illusions about the challenges that lie ahead, challenges to Somalia's political process, its stabilization efforts, its economic recovery, its fight against terrorists," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, as he swore in Schwartz. However, he added that Somalia has made progress because its leaders see the importance of growth, peace and stability.
But diplomats acknowledged the country needs to do more.
"It is time for Somali authorities to establish a responsive and effective Somali national army to defeat al-Shabab and unify the country," Schwartz said.
Schwartz's appointment comes a year after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Mogadishu, becoming the first sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit Somalia.
During his short trip last May, Kerry showed support for the war-torn country and its efforts to restore normalcy.
Over the years, the U.S has provided millions of dollars to Somalia as it dealt with drought, piracy and the al-Shabab insurgency.
The U.S. formally recognized the Somali government in 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama initially tapped career diplomat Katherine Simonds Dhanini to serve as U.S. ambassador. However, she withdrew her nomination last year, citing personal reasons.