US seeks to bolster Somali government, force

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The United States will help pay for the fledgling Somali government’s domestic security force as Washington looks to bolster the fragile country’s peace process, a top US diplomat says.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phillip Carter says the Obama administration wants to focus on long-term security for Somalia while at the same time fighting piracy off its shores, which included a brazen attack last week on a US-flagged container ship.
Reuters says Carter will represent the United States at a Somali donors conference on April 23 in Brussels, where piracy and other security threats will be discussed along with how the international community can best stabilise Somalia.
“We need to stabilize Somalia with an effective government that will address the security problems, the symptoms of which have been piracy,” Carter told Reuters in an interview.
The US and other Western countries once wary of Islamists being in power, now see the country’s moderate Islamist president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, as the best option for bringing peace to Somalia after 18 years of violence.
Ahmed was elected in January under a UN-brokered reconciliation process that is Somalia’s 15th attempt to set up a central government since 1991.
“This is probably the best opportunity that Somalia has had in a long time to develop a sustainable peace and get the country on some kind of a development path. But it is very risky,” said Carter.
Washington is working with Ahmed’s government to help build up its own security force, which would eventually amount to about 5000, Carter said. The United Nations is also training a new police force.
“We are focusing on what we can do to provide resources to the joint security force,” said Carter, who described the force as an “ad hoc” collection of militia and clan groups.
“They need to be paid, they need to be sheltered, watered and fed. That basic bill, we are looking to help with. The (government) is covering it now, but they are getting tight on resources and we are looking to support them,” he added.
US strategy toward Somalia is under review by the Obama administration, but Carter said he expected $5 million to $10 million would be allocated to help pay, feed and train the domestic security forces.
The US, which also helps pay for African Union forces in Somalia, has been looking into a financial mechanism that could ensure funds are properly accounted for to help bolster the new government in Mogadishu.
Washington had been dealing with the Somali Central Bank and Kenyan-based accountants and others to set it up. The hope was that other Western and Arab donors could put their funds into this account or mechanism and this would be discussed at the Brussels meeting, said Carter.
The US is also mulling other ways to help the new government, including how to ensure their “messaging can get out,” added Carter, without providing more details.
The country’s new foreign minister was in Washington last month to see Carter and other US officials to discuss how the United States could help.
The last US involvement in Somalia ended in a shambles, with US forces withdrawing.
Carter said Washington was stepping carefully, letting the United Nations take the lead.
“We have learned a lot since the 1990s. The real role for us is a supportive role and to be as helpful as we can in a catalytic manner so that the Somalis themselves can advance the peace process forward,” said Carter.
Eighteen US soldiers died and 73 were wounded in the “Battle of Mogadishu” in October 1993. The battle, which inspired the film “Black Hawk Down,” marked the beginning of the end of a US-UN peacekeeping force that left in 1995.
Japan prepares planes for anti-piracy mission
Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada has ordered Japan’s air force on Friday to ready intelligence-gathering planes to join an international battle against piracy off the coast of Somalia, a government official said.
At least two P-3C planes will depart for a base in Djibouti, which borders Somalia, as soon as next month, along with about 150 crew and support personnel, a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said.
They may start operations in June, Japanese media reported.
There is an acute need for more aircraft to join the mission, because about 800 pirate groups operate along 3000 km (1900 miles) of coastline, a NATO officer has said.
Japan’s surveillance planes will provide information to two Japanese destroyers escorting Japanese commercial vessels in the area and may also exchange information with other nations’ forces, the media said.
The government agonised for months over the ship dispatch, because Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution restricts the activities of its armed forces overseas.
More than a dozen vessels from other nations also patrol the area, but analysts say more resources and coordination are needed to make the operation effective.