From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sat Oct 03 2009 - 05:05:51 EDT
Leader Says Somalia's Plight Is Urgent
U.N.-Backed Donors Slow to Send Aid and Insurgency Is Gaining, Ahmed Says
Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 2009
The president of war-torn Somalia said Friday that he urgently needs help to
beat back an insurgency linked to al-Qaeda, adding that he has received only
a fraction of the $200 million pledged at a U.N.-sponsored donors conference
last spring to support his fragile government's security forces.
Sharif Ahmed also expressed support for the Obama administration's first
airstrike in Somalia, a daring helicopter raid last month that killed one of
the country's top al-Qaeda operatives. But, in an interview in his suite at
the Willard Intercontinental hotel, Ahmed said such operations had to be
supplemented by other aid if the extremists are to be defeated.
"The people fighting us are affiliated with al-Qaeda," he said, speaking
through an interpreter. "Whenever the assistance or support to the
government is delayed, the problems tend to increase."
During her recent trip to Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
met the 45-year-old president, who took office in January, and said his
moderate Islamist government was "the best hope we've had in quite some time
for a return to stability" in Somalia. The country has been without a
functioning government since 1991, and 14 attempts to establish state
authority since then have failed.
But Ahmed's government nearly fell this year after an offensive launched in
May by Islamist militias led by al-Shabab, which the U.S. government
considers a terrorist group. The United States rushed in about 40 tons of
ammunition and weapons and more than $1 million in cash.
Ahmed said he pressed officials in Washington and at U.N. meetings in New
York in recent days for thousands more peacekeepers in addition to the 5,300
African Union troops in Somalia. He also requested more economic,
humanitarian and military assistance. U.S. officials told him they were
studying the requests, he said.
Ahmed said he had expected a boost in resources from a U.N.-sponsored donor
conference in April, but that "very little of that money materialized" --
less than $5 million. He urged the U.S. government to help him collect on
the pledges, he said.
The U.S. government is one of Somalia's largest donors, providing about half
its food aid and roughly $180 million so far this year in humanitarian aid,
according to State Department spokesman Ian Kelly. He said that Washington
had pledged $26 million at the donors conference, but that it directed the
contribution to the peacekeeping force. The United States separately funds
training of Somalia's military.
Analysts have said in recent months that al-Shabab appears to be weakened by
internal divisions and a loss of support among Somalis, who traditionally
subscribe to a moderate form of Islam. Ahmed said, however, that he fears
the group is strengthening, noting that it recently proclaimed victory over
a rival Islamist militia in the southern port city of Kismaayo. Government
forces control only a sliver of the country.
Ahmed said it was "appropriate" for the U.S. military to launch the
helicopter strike last month that killed Saleh Ali Nabhan, allegedly one of
two top al-Qaeda leaders in Somalia. The Somali government wants to get
"al-Qaeda out of our country by any means necessary," he said.
After the strike, al-Shabab attacked peacekeeping forces in what it called
retaliatory strikes and released a video showing its members pledging
allegiance to al-Qaeda. The group is largely Somali and focused on the
domestic conflict but has al-Qaeda instructors, analysts say.
A senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity
because of diplomatic sensitivities said this week that the administration
is planning an interagency policy review on Somalia soon. The U.S.
government has encouraged African nations to provide more peacekeepers, he
said, but "with the level of intensity of fighting going on . . . there has
been a great reluctance."
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