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U.S. Conducting High-Level Strategic Review of Somalia Strategy
<i>(NOTE - The following U.S. Department of State article is provided to promote public understanding of U.S. foreign policy.)</i> In Somalia, the U.S. government is determined to support the policy of political reconciliation spearheaded by the
(NOTE - The following U.S. Department of State article is provided to promote public understanding of U.S. foreign policy.) In Somalia, the U.S. government is determined to support the policy of political reconciliation spearheaded by the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told Congress May 20. Speaking two weeks after his confirmation by the Senate, Carson told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs that "the collapse of the TFG would be detrimental to the long-term stability of Somalia." The Obama administration is working on "a comprehensive solution" to the ongoing crisis in Somalia, Carson said, that "provides stability and promotes reconciliation, economic opportunity and hope for the Somali people." Along with strengthening the TFG, Carson said, eliminating terrorist threats, addressing the dire humanitarian situation and eliminating piracy are priority goals. Carson said various departments of the federal government, including the State Department, Defense Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), were working under the direction of the National Security Council (NSC) "to develop a strategy that is both comprehensive and sustainable." He said he hoped to see the NSC review completed "in the next 30 to 60 days." Citing a sense of urgency, Carson told lawmakers, "In the past two weeks, violent extremists, including al-Shabaab [designated a terrorist organization by the United States] and a loose coalition of forces under the banner of Hizbul al-Islam have been attacking TFG forces and other moderates in Mogadishu." But despite the assaults, Carson said, "the TFG remains standing and determined to move forward" with help from the United States and other international partners. The U.S. government has provided $10 million in assistance to help Somalia create a national security force. Carson said the U.S. government is also making substantial contributions to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), whose Ugandan and Burundian peacekeeping forces were deployed to Somalia in 2007. Since then, the United States has contributed $135 million for logistics and equipment for AMISOM and "we plan to continue this level of support in the future," Carson added. To counter mistrust "generated by al-Shabaab and others," Carson said, "we are working very hard to … give Somalis a more comprehensive understanding of what the United States is doing and wants to do in Somalia." "We continue through our public diplomacy efforts to reach out to the media, to talk to people, to issue press statements," Carson said. "I have myself spoken to a number of media groups that have access to Somalia in order to indicate to them that our primary goal is to promote political reconciliation, peace and stability. And that our desire is to see a strong, stable Somalia that we can work with." SOMALIA’S SECURITY THREATS Subcommittee Chairman Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said the recent rise in pirate attacks in the region is "an outgrowth of [Somalia’s] collapse, lawlessness and economic desperation that have plagued the country for over a decade." Feingold has called for more U.S. involvement in the Horn of Africa, and has proposed the Obama administration appoint a special envoy for the region. Carson said that as part of the NSC-led Somalia strategic review, the U.S. government will examine its strategy on piracy. Touching on Eritrea, a backer of forces battling the TFG, Carson said, "We have clear evidence that Eritrea is supporting … extremist elements, including credible reports that the government of Eritrea continues to supply weapons and munitions to extremists and terrorist elements." Responding to inquiries from Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia and the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, over what role foreign fighters and terrorist groups are playing in the country, Carson said, "We don’t know the precise nationalities of these foreign fighters or their political affiliation, but we do have a growing body of information passed on to us that there clearly are foreign fighters operating in Somalia." He added that claims of up to 400 foreign fighters in Somalia were "a significant exaggeration." Carson said there was "clear evidence" that al-Qaida has a presence in the country. "A small number of al-Qaida operatives have worked closely with al-Shabaab leaders in Somalia, where they enjoy safe haven," he said. Carson told the Senate panel, "This further underscores the importance of urgent and decisive support to the TFG and engagement with states across the region and beyond." The full text (in pdf format) of Carson's prepared statement to the committee is available on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Web site.