- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday promised Somalia’s shaky government more weapons, training and other aid to prevent an extremist militia from turning the East African country into a “haven for global terrorism.”

Mrs. Clinton, after meeting with Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed at the U.S. Embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, also threatened Eritrea with sanctions for helping the Islamic group known as al-Shabab, which controls much of Somalia, including a big part of the capital, Mogadishu.

“There is no doubt that al-Shabab wants to take control of Somalia and use it as a base from which to influence and even infiltrate surrounding countries and launch attacks against countries far and near,” she said.

“Al-Shabab not only uses foreign fighters and foreign money, but foreign ideas in its attack on the people of Somalia,” Mrs. Clinton said, citing the recent arrests of four men with apparent links to the group who are suspected of plotting attacks in Australia.

Sheik Ahmed, a beleaguered leader whose government holds only a few blocks in Mogadishu with support from a small peacekeeping force from Uganda and Burundi, said his country needed significant help to deal with al-Shabab.

“Their aim is to make Somalia a ground to destabilize the whole world,” he said. “We cannot suffer any longer. The people of Somalia have a right to peace.”

The impoverished country has not had a functioning government since 1991, when a civil war broke out. A U.S. military intervention began as a humanitarian mission during the George H.W. Bush administration to deliver aid supplies in 1992.

It ended during the Clinton administration with a pullout after the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident, in which 18 servicemen were killed and some of their bodies were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Sheik Ahmed said Thursday that Mrs. Clinton, who is on a seven-nation Africa trip, promised him an increase of security and humanitarian U.S. assistance.

The secretary did not offer details, but a U.S. official in Washington said the Obama administration would likely double an initial provision of 40 tons of weapons. Another official said the United States has begun training Somali security forces in neighboring Djibouti.

A spokesman for al-Shabab, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, was quick to respond to Mrs. Clinton’s comments Thursday, telling reporters in Mogadishu that U.S. aid would not stop the group from trying to repeat the 1993 event.

“Any support America gives the government will not deter us from pursuing our path, because we believe Allah and we always hope from him to give us the upper hand,” he said, according to wire reports.

Brett D. Schaefer, a fellow in international regulatory affairs at the Heritage Foundation, said the Obama administration’s approach to Somalia so far seems little different from that of the George W. Bush administration, though the current team appears to be “more willing to assert itself in the conflict by providing more arms.”

“The U.S. and international approach has been wrong-headed from the beginning in trying to establish a government from the top down,” he said. “The difficult part is to create a legitimate government that has the people’s interests at heart. It won’t be a result of a U.N.-led effort. You can try to locate legitimate local authorities and bolster their capability and credibility.”

Josh Ruxin, an assistant professor at Columbia University who is based in Rwanda, agreed that rebuilding a political system from the bottom up is preferable but also said the Obama administration’s “approach makes sense.”

“You do need good leadership at the top, but in the last two decades the bottom has been all but destroyed,” so there are no leaders prepared to move up, Mr. Ruxin said.

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