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U.S. Optimistic on Direction Somalia Is Taking, Official Says
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington January 19, 2007 -- Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer gave an upbeat assessment of the progress Somalia is making toward forming a national unity government aimed at providing security and stability for the nation, which has been ravaged by clan fighting and warlordism. State Department's Frazer sees "glimmer of hope" after routing of CIC force
(Media-Newswire.com) - Despite the turmoil Somalia has undergone over the past 16 years without a functioning central government, Frazer said January 17 she now sees a "glimmer of hope" and "reasons to be optimistic" for a lasting peace following the defeat of the radical Council of Islamic Courts ( CIC ), the jihadist-influenced movement that came to dominate most of the country.
Frazer, who is the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, commented on " Somalia's Future" at a seminar co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Following a visit in early January to Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen and Uganda to drum up regional and international support for conflict resolution measures in Somalia, Frazer said, "If there was one lesson I took away from the trip, it is this: Somalis are ready for peace, they are tired of war."
Frazer's optimism was tempered by Senator Russell Feingold, who told the seminar's participants: "The U.S. needs to move quickly to prevent a return to large-scale violence in Somalia. More than ever, Somalia's instability matters to the region and to our own national security."
After years of intermittent conflict, a struggling central authority called the Transitional Federal Government ( TFG ) was established in 2004 and backed by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. It was unable, however, to exert authority much outside the provincial capital of Baidoa. Mogadishu continued to be ruled by squabbling warlords and clan leaders.
In 2005, the religion-based CIC began to confront the warlords in the capital and eventually chased them out of the city. The CIC, however, became increasingly dominated by anti-Western jihadists and failed to come to terms with the TFG later at talks held in Khartoum.
Frazer referred to the isolation of the TFG in Baidoa and the subsequent takeover of most of the country by CIC forces in 2006 by noting: "How different things looked then. We have come a long way."
That summer Somalia again became a large-scale battleground as the CIC -- progressively more under the influence of jihadists and al-Qaida sympathizers -- began consolidating power throughout Somalia and advanced on the TFG center in Baidoa.
In a move that confounded many Somalia experts, however, the TFG, with the help of Ethiopian troops, routed CIC forces and forced them out of Mogadishu in December 2006.
Now, said Frazer, "we have been presented with a real opportunity to rebuild Somalia and restore effective governance representing all aspects of Somalia society."
Professor Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert from Davidson College, agreed that "extraordinary" changes occurred "over the course of a single year . The TFG, once moribund, is now active." He also noted that the CIC brought on its own demise through its "radicalization" and "calls for jihad against Ethiopia."
Ethiopian Ambassador Samuel Assefa assured forum participants that the Ethiopian military's presence in Mogadishu and other parts of the country would be temporary, and that a phased withdrawal of forces would begin immediately.
Since the defeat of the CIC, Frazer said, "I believe we have made significant progress supporting the TFGIs [Transitional Federal Government Institutions] and moving toward the rapid deployment of an African peacekeeping force, which is our immediate objective."
The United Nations sanctioned a peacekeeping force of up to 8,000 troops for Somalia, and Uganda has offered to supply 1,500 troops for that purpose. ( See related story. )
During her visit to Nairobi, Frazer pledged nearly $17 million to support peacekeeping operations in Somalia -- a portion of the $40 million the United States has committed for short-term help. According to the U.S. Agency for International development, the U.S. government has devoted $95 million for humanitarian relief and development programs in 2006 and 2007 in Somalia. ( See related story. )
Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told the seminar's participants that it was important "to get some Arab nations and North African nations of the African Union involved" in the peacekeeping efforts. The North Africans, especially, have "considerable resources they can bring to bear," she said.
With respect to press reports that 70 civilians were killed in a U.S. air attack on suspected al-Qaida terrorists in southern Somalia in early January, Whelan said emphatically: "I can assure you they were fighters. There were no civilians killed in the U.S. strike.
"The individuals were all militia members," she added, "believed to be part of the Shebab" -- a faction of radical jihadist fighters within the CIC -- who served as personal security details for its leadership.
Whelan said the Shebab had been "instrumental in sheltering the three al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists whom we are interested in bringing to justice for the  bombings [of U.S.] embassies in Kenya and Tanzania."
Ismail Bubaa, TFG foreign minister, stated that his government had requested the air strike against "jihadists and terrorists," whom he claimed were bent on destabilizing the whole Horn of Africa region.
For additional information on U.S. policy see Peace and Security in Africa and U.S. Aid to Africa.