Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to war-torn Somalia Tuesday to show Washington has its back in the struggle against Islamic militants. But in a vivid reminder of how hard that fight will be, Kerry didn’t set foot outside the heavily-secured Mogadishu airport.
Kerry’s visit — the first trip to Somalia by a secretary of state — comes as he travels across East Africa, a region battered by al Shabab, the Somali-based Islamist group waging a campaign of terror through Kenya and Somalia. After a three hour visit in Mogadishu with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Kerry returned to Kenya, a country still mourning the loss of 147 students killed during an al Shabab massacre at a university in Garissa, a town in eastern Kenya.
Before leaving Somalia, the nation’s top diplomat used grandiose language to describe what he described as Washington’s commitment to a country most Americans know because of the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident, a disastrous 1993 operation and subsequent rescue mission that left 18 U.S. service members dead.
“More than 20 years ago, the United States was forced to pull back from your country,” Kerry said in Mogadishu. “Now we are returning.”
In the decades since that battle, the United States has been steadily ramping up its support for Somalia’s fragile central government. The Treasury Department has taken steps to financially starve Somali militants by cutting off remittances from the United States, and U.S. drones have conducted airstrikes in Somalia. American special operators are covertly conducting missions in the Horn of Africa.
Kerry’s visit was meant to show ordinary Somalis that the United States was committed to their country for the long term. The fact that he was unable to leave Mogadishu’s airport and spent so little time in the country underscores just how long that’s likely to be.
Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press