Saturday, September 25, 2010

New U.S. policy on Somalia

BBC English language radio and Arabic language TV asked me to comment today on the new U.S. approach towards Somalia spelled out at the United Nations in New York on September 23 by Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and on September 24 by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

I explained to the BBC English-language radio program that the new policy consists of two tracks.
  1. The first one is a continuation of the status quo, whereby the United States will support the Djibouti peace proces and the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and will work to strengthen the African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu.
  2. The second track is new and consists of more active engagement with and support for the government of Somaliland, which has unilaterally declared independence, and the semi-autonomous government in Puntland. This will consist of more frequent contact and increased development assistance. Most important, this track will reach out to clans, sub-clans and elders in south and central Somalia who live in areas now controlled by al-Shabaab but would like to see an end to the al-Shabaab presence. The goal is to support development initiatives that they would like to have implemented. This will be a difficult task in view of strong opposition by al-Shabaab, but it holds out more hope than just continuing to pursue the status quo.
The Arabic-language program, which included a spokesperson for the TFG, focused on the possibility that the new U.S. approach would undermine the TFG and result in al-Shabaab attacks in Puntland and Somaliland.

I responded that the TFG should not be concerned. The United States will continue to support it, but it clearly is not succeeding in establishing authority in Somalia. As a result, it is important to reach out to other centers of power and this could eventually work to the benefit of the TFG.

As for encouraging al-Shabaab attacks on Puntland and Somaliland, al-Shabaab has already carried out attacks in Puntland and conducted terrorist activity in Somaliland. This policy change will not make such attacks any easier for al-Shabaab.

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