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U.S. Recognizes Somalia For First Time in 20 Years

Somalia remains a blighted image in the minds of most Americans, based on the ugliness that occurred there in 1993 when dead Americans soldiers were dragged through the streets — events portrayed in the film “Black Hawk Down.” But the Obama administration now seems to feel Somalia’s dark days are over. The nation’s president, Hassan Sheik Mohamud, was welcomed at the White House yesterday and the U.S. recognized the government for the first time in 20 years.

The U.S. spent $1 billion over the last four years to help the Somalis beat back the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabab that had taken over much of the country. This recognition of the new government, elected last September, is being touted by the U.S. as a victory over terrorism. With the recognition comes diplomatic and aid programs. Somalia is now eligible to apply for assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“It’s a great day,” Mohamud said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies after his appearance with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a White House meeting with President Obama. Mohamud said the U.S. recognition would encourage other countries and international financial institutions to follow suit.

Mohamud listed his top priorities as judicial and financial reform and security. He said while there is “no silver bullet,” Somalia is “very much aware of all past mistakes; we are ready to move on.”

Mohamud lavished thanks and gratitude on the Obama administration, saying U.S. aid had built schools, seaports and airports and provided humanitarian assistance during droughts and famine at a time when Somalia was “so close to being wiped out.”

“American boys and girls in uniform have sacrificed their lives to save Somali lives,” he said.

Of the $1 billion the U.S. has sent to Somalia, $650 million supported African Union troops fighting the insurgents, $200 million was in humanitarian aid and more than $130 million help rebuild security structures. The U.S. also used drone strikes and intelligence support for the AU force.

Clinton said yesterday that while security in Somalia is still tenuous — this week a captured French intelligence agent, Denis Allex, was killed following a failed French raid to rescue him — 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, who revealed that getting Somalia stable was a pet project of hers.

According to independent estimates, the ongoing conflicts in Somalia have killed thousands of people and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The country sprang into American consciousness in 1993 when horrified TV viewers watched images of Somali warlord Mohammed Aideed’s supporters dragging the bodies of three American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu, cheering. That moved President Clinton to abandon pursuit of Aideed. He ordered all soldiers to withdraw from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit.

When the last U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, ending a mission that had cost more than $2 billion, Mogadishu still did not have a functioning government. Many observers cite the Somalia experience as the reason the Clinton administration was reluctant to intervene in the Rwanda genocide in 1994 that left nearly a million Tutsis dead, slaughtered by the Hutu.

In 1996, Osama bin Laden cited the Mogadishu incident as proof that the U.S. could no longer stomach casualties. “One American was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu, you left; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear,” he boasted.

 

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