PENTAGON - U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Friday that he was optimistic about improving Somali accountability concerning the distribution of American aid to Somali armed forces, much of which was suspended because of corruption concerns.
"I'm sure we can get this thing under control, even if it's not for the whole, but for parts of it," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
The suspension reflected the Somali military's repeated inability to account for aid items, such as food, fuel and weapons.
'Pause' in assistance
The massive "pause" in aid is being made "to ensure that U.S. assistance is being used effectively and for its intended purpose," a State Department official said.
It will "affect the majority of U.S. logistical support and stipends assistance" to the Somali armed forces "until additional transparency and accountability measures are in place," Marion Wohlers, the spokesperson for African affairs at the State Department, told VOA.
The Somali government has agreed to develop new accountability criteria that meet American standards, a State Department official said.
Mattis said changing a "culture of corruption" takes time, adding that Somalia had "finally got a president worth supporting."
"We have a good relationship with President [Mohamed Abdullahi] Farmajo and his administration, but as you know, he inherited a very difficult situation," Mattis said.
Some assistance to continue
Somali security force members who are actively fighting al-Shabab and receiving some form of mentorship from either the U.S. or a third party will continue to receive appropriate assistance, officials said.
According to documents obtained by the Reuters news agency, the Somali military has been unable to properly feed, pay or equip its soldiers, despite having received hundreds of millions of dollars of American support.
A U.S.-Somali team sent to nine Somali army bases between May and June of this year found that evidence of the arrival of food aid or its consumption by soldiers was present at only two of the bases, Reuters reported.
Plans to suspend the support will be a "big setback" to the effort by Somali security forces to fight al-Shabab, warned former Somali Defense Minister General Abdulkadir Ali Dini.
Dini, who worked closely with American officials in Somalia for many years, first as chief of the Somali national army and later as defense minister, said the decision did not come at the right time.
"If the United States suspends food, fuel and stipends, that will hamper the war and work against the enemy and terrorists," he said. "It does not help these operations, and it damages morale."