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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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
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.