The State Department's top Africa envoy said Thursday the Obama administration is prepared to provide more military help to Somalia's embattled Transitional Federal Government, the TFG. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begins a seven-nation Africa trip next week that will include a Nairobi meeting with the TFG President, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
The Obama administration is making clear its readiness to continue helping the Somali administration fend off an offensive by hard-line Islamic rebels with alleged ties to al-Qaida, and it is renewing its call on Eritrea to cease its aid to the militants.
The comments from Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson came as Secretary of State Clinton prepared to leave next Monday on an ambitious 11-day, seven nation African tour that will focus on problem issues including Somalia and political trouble in Zimbabwe.
The United States has in recent weeks provided about 40 tons of ammunition and supplies to the transitional Somali government, which is under siege by insurgent groups led by the al-Shabab militia, which is viewed by the U.S. as a terrorist group.
Briefing reporters on the Clinton trip, Carson said the TFG, which has the support of the African Union and its peacekeeping mission AMISOM, offers the best chance for restoring stability in Somalia and he made clear the United States is ready to continue its military support.
"Yes, we are prepared to provide additional assistance to the TFG government. Yes, we are prepared to continue to support AMISOM, which has Ugandan and Burundian troops on the ground. And yes, we are prepared to work with the EGAD states and the AU in finding solutions to the problem of Somalia," he said.
Carson, echoing comments made to a congressional panel Wednesday by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, criticized Eritrea for supporting al-Shabab and trying to undermine the TFG.
"The Eritrean government has not played a positive role in helping to resolve the problem. Somalia is a place where they have been spoilers," he said. "We would hope that they would cease and desist their support for al-Shabab, that they would not allow their county to be used as a safe haven or a conduit or vehicle for moving people, munitions or money into the hands of the extremists in Somalia.
Clinton will meet the TFG leader during a busy first stop of her trip, in Nairobi, that includes meetings with leaders of both main parties in Kenya's national unity government, and a conference of the U.S.-African trade-promotion grouping, AGOA.
She then visits South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and the island state of Cape Verde on a mission to advance the themes of President Obama's policy message in Ghana earlier this month of U.S. support for African democratization, economic growth and conflict-resolution.
Carson said the political situation in Zimbabwe will be a key issue for Clinton in South Africa and that she would encourage that country to press Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to fully implement his power-sharing accord with former opposition leader and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangerai.
He said Clinton would urge Nigeria and Angola to combat corruption and build transparency in their economies, but he said, she does not intend to "lecture" those countries, which have emerged as key U.S. energy suppliers.