Four years and over $1 billion in U.S. support later, the Obama administration today claimed a victory in its war on terror in Africa by officially recognizing the government of Somalia, once a country overrun by al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
At a press conference at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood shoulder to shoulder with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the first democratically elected President of Somalia since 1991, and told reporters that working to stabilize Somalia had been "a personal priority" of hers.
"So I'm very pleased that in my last weeks here, Mr. President, we are taking this historic step of recognizing the government," Clinton told reporters.
Earlier today Clinton said the Somali president also met with President Obama, as a sign of how committed the U.S. is to new democracy.
When Clinton came into office in early 2009, the al Qaeda-allied terrorist organization al-Shabaab controlled all of southern and most of central Somalia and all but 10 blocks of the capital city of Mogadishu. The country had not a functioning government in nearly two decades. The United States had engaged with Somalia during that time, including the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993, and had provided support for the Ethiopian incursion into Somalia in 2006, which lasted for three years and is widely considered to have been a failure.
Over the last four years, the U.S. has poured more than $1 billion into the country, with at least $650 million dollars used to support and train African Union troops fighting the terrorists, $200 million in humanitarian aid and more than $130 million to fund programs to help the country rebuild its security structures. The U.S. also helped beat back the terrorists with drone strikes and intelligence support for the AU force.
By officially recognizing Somalia's new government, the U.S. has now opened the door for formal diplomatic ties, including USAID programs. Somalia is now also eligible to apply for assistance from the World Bank and the IMF. Clinton spoke about how in the last year two different senior State Department officials visited Mogadishu, a city state department officials working on Somalia were forbidden to visit just two years ago. Clinton said that while security is still tenuous, the ultimate goal is to have a permanent U.S. presence in the country.
"Our diplomats, our development experts are traveling more frequently there, and I do look forward to the day when we can re- establish a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Mogadishu," said Clinton.
But she also acknowledged that security remains an issue and that the new government and democracy remain fragile.
Just this week the Somalia-based terror group al-Shabaab publicly boasted that they had executed a French intelligence agent codenamed Dennis Allex, who al-Shabaab had held in captivity since 2009. An al-Shabaab spokesperson issued a statement saying the execution was retaliation for Western incursions into Mali, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. Days before, France launched a coordinated military operation to pummel extremists in Mali, a West African nation more than 3,000 miles from Somalia.
In her address today, Clinton acknowledged that the "threat of terrorism and violent extremism... is not just a problem in Somalia. It is a problem across the region."