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New era as top US envoy, US Forces commander visit Mogadishu

US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend on his first trip to Africa with US Ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto. Photo/COURTESY US AFRICA COMMAND.

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 9- As sanity slowly returns to Somalia after more than two decades of terror, world players are shifting focus to Mogadishu.

While the threat posed by the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab terror group remains, the militants are now largely weakened with their capacity to launch high scale terror attacks drastically downgraded.

Mogadishu continues to receive world leaders among them security players, a departure from the past when such meetings would be held in neighbouring Capitals and more so in Nairobi.

The latest on Wednesday, when the new commander of U.S. Africa Command based in Germany, made his first trip to the troubled country since taking over on July 26.

General Stephen Townsend met with the Prime Minister of Somalia, the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto, and senior Somali military leadership in Mogadishu.

The visit, the US Africa Command said in a statement that it “offered an opportunity to assess the situation in Somalia while reinforcing AFRICOM’s commitment to mutual security interests in the region.”

On his part, General Townsend said he is committed to working together and advancing the Command’s partnership with Somalia.

“Along with Somalia and other international partners, we will apply continued pressure on violent extremist organizations. This pressure creates conditions and opportunity for further political and economic development,” he said.

U.S. efforts in Somalia involve coordinated efforts in the areas of diplomacy, development, and defense.

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The visit came just days after Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale met with the Somali Prime Minister in Mogadishu, in a move meant to reinforce “the U.S. commitment to helping Somalia with political reforms and economic development, and stabilization.”

While there, Hale highlighted the value of defense efforts.

“They agreed on the value of security operations to liberate areas from Al-Shabaab and preparing Somali forces to take over from the African Union Mission to Somalia,” U.S. Department of State spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.

Since 2007, an African Union-led, United Nations-backed regional force in Somalia called AMISOM has assisted with security in the country.

Other than Kenya, other countries contributing forces include Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

About 22,000 AMISOM forces are in strategic places within Somalia, formerly occupied the terror groups.

To complement their efforts, various international participants, such as the European Union, are supporting Somali defense efforts.

U.S. defense efforts according to involve security force assistance, training and mentoring, and “fulfilling the Federal Government of Somalia’s requests for airstrikes in support of Somali ground operations.”

“The unique level of cooperation between the multiple international efforts in Somalia has led to more effective Federal Government of Somalia security forces and their ability to conduct offensive operations,” Col. Charles Bergman, U.S. Africa Command integrator for developing security in Somalia said.

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“This demonstrates to the Somali people that their national Army’s capabilities to secure Somalia are growing.”

U.S. Africa Command is training the Somali Security Forces, specifically the Danab- a specially trained Somali military force- engaged in the fight against Al-Shabaab and ISIS-Somalia.

Al-Shabaab remains the largest and deadliest terror organization in East Africa.

The extremist group was responsible for a truck bombing in Mogadishu in October 2017 that killed 500 people in one of the deadliest violent extremist attacks since September 11, 2001.

More recently, it was responsible for an attack in January on a hotel complex frequented by Westerners in Nairobi that left 21 people dead.

Al-Shabaab, a group with allegiance to Al-Qaeda, remains the principal security challenge in Somalia and East Africa at large.

While terror groups in Africa currently lack the capability, General Townsend said they still “possess the will and desire to attack the U.S. homeland and interests.”

“Evildoers are out there. They are looking for an opening and an opportunity to do harm. If they could attack U.S. interests and the homeland they would. We can’t give them an opening. We must deny them that opportunity,” he asserted.

General Townsend piled pressure on the Somali security forces to sustain their efforts “to liberate the Somali people in remaining Al-Shabaab held areas.”

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“We’re in the business of protecting our country from these threats,” he said. “Degrading the capability of terrorists who operate here makes the entire region safer and prevents its export to other places. This is important work for our country, the Somalis, and our allies.”

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