- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

The State Department said yesterday it is considering re-establishing a diplomatic presence in Somalia for the first time since U.S. troops withdrew from the African country in 1994 after an unsuccessful U.N. humanitarian operation amid a bloody civil war.

Even if the department determines that the political and security conditions on the ground have improved sufficiently, it will not reopen the U.S. Embassy, which has been closed since 1991, but will most likely set up a small presence post, officials said.

“It’s something that’s being actively examined right now,” department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. “We are going to take a look, obviously, at what is appropriate in terms of security [and] political presence … in Somalia.”

Although the United States never formally severed diplomatic relations with a Somali nation that dissolved into near anarchy from 1991 on, it closed its embassy there.

About a month ago, Somalia’s weak transitional government, backed by troops and weapons from Ethiopia, drove out Islamists who had controlled the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the country’s south for six months.

Since then, the security situation has improved, although there have been attacks in Mogadishu.

“There aren’t any final decisions” about sending U.S. diplomats to Somalia, Mr. McCormack said. However, he added that if the situation continues to improve, the department could send diplomats.

Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, considered visiting Somalia during a trip to the region early last month, but the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service decided it was not safe, a senior official said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kenya is responsible for watching developments in Somalia, but the lack of diplomatic presence on the ground limits the knowledge and potential influence of the United States, officials said.

In Mogadishu yesterday, mortar bombs and rockets killed at least three persons, wire reports quoted witnesses as saying. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. On Tuesday, a series of blasts rocked the capital’s northern part, in an area where Ethiopian troops were based before they began a pullback withdrawal last month.

Officials have blamed remnants of the Islamist movement, who fled to the south after their defeat, for some of the attacks.

Miss Frazer pledged $40 million in financial assistance for Somalia during her trip.

She said the United States was trying to “mobilize international support to help build the governance capacity” of the transitional authorities and to “move forward with the deployment of an African stabilization force.”

“It is very important that the peacekeeping force is led by Africans, especially participation by Muslim countries,” she said in a Jan. 17 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In 1993, Somali clan militiamen shot down two Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 U.S. soldiers. The bodies of two of them were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

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