The Most Dangerous Place in the World? It’s back.

The highlight of Hillary Clinton’s Africa trip so far, at least for the counterterrorism world, has been her meeting with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Clinton pledged support for her Somali counterpart, whose Transitional Federal Government is struggling (to put it mildly) to control a country that some worry is the next al Qaeda ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
582464_090807_somaliablog12.jpg
582464_090807_somaliablog12.jpg

The highlight of Hillary Clinton's Africa trip so far, at least for the counterterrorism world, has been her meeting with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Clinton pledged support for her Somali counterpart, whose Transitional Federal Government is struggling (to put it mildly) to control a country that some worry is the next al Qaeda breeding ground. 

FP dug deep in to that very debate yesterday: Blake Hounshell asseses the terror threat which, while real, may be exaggerated.  Ken Menkhaus, one of the foremost experts on Somalia, tells us why Somalia is a domestic policy concern for Obama (and why that's bad news.) And finally, Matt Armstrong explains how terrorist propaganda is reaching Somalis in the United States.

The highlight of Hillary Clinton’s Africa trip so far, at least for the counterterrorism world, has been her meeting with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Clinton pledged support for her Somali counterpart, whose Transitional Federal Government is struggling (to put it mildly) to control a country that some worry is the next al Qaeda breeding ground. 

FP dug deep in to that very debate yesterday: Blake Hounshell asseses the terror threat which, while real, may be exaggerated.  Ken Menkhaus, one of the foremost experts on Somalia, tells us why Somalia is a domestic policy concern for Obama (and why that’s bad news.) And finally, Matt Armstrong explains how terrorist propaganda is reaching Somalis in the United States.

I also thought it might be helpful to give a run down of what the Obama administration has done and is doing on Somalia so far. Here’s what we know:

Obama’s Somalia policy looks something like a card player hedging his bets: The administration has come from all angles to try to ward off the various Islamist groups that now control much of the increasingly tumultuous, some say failed, Somali state. Most directly, the U.S. State Department admitted last Spring that it has been sending arms to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – a tenuous policy since, according to a December 2008 UN Report, the TFG has just 3,000 active soldiers; another 14,000 soldiers have deserted with their weapons and uniforms. The United States Naval Fifth Fleet heads up Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, a coalition of various Navies perched off the waters of Somalia to combat the piracy that saw 111 ships hijacked last year (31 have been taken hostage so far in 2009). Most will remember the U.S. Navy’s debonair rescue of the hijacked U.S. Maersk-Alabama on April 12.

More quietly, the Obama administration has sought to cut off the sources of funding and influence that have allowed Islamist groups in Somalia to thrive. The administration has adamantly criticized Eritrea for its military assistance to Islamist groups, including monthly contributions of between $200,000 and $500,000, according to the December UN report. In April, the African Union echoed the call for sanctions against Eritrea.  Al Shabab remains on the State Departments list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as do several Somali banks thought to have been used for money laundering. That designation renders monetary transactions in the United States or by American citizens illegal, and one hopes, impossible. Somalia also remains under a long-standing arms UN embargo.

Finally, the Administration has also made Somalia a key topic for discussion with its East African allies. “We have tried to make it very, very clear that diplomacy is primary and that support for stability inside of Somalia is what we are doing,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Johnnie Carson, told AllAfrica.com. That has meant bringing up the issue in talks with leaders from Kenya and Tanzania in recent months. It is unclear whether the new administration continues the long-rumored Bush administration reliance on Ethiopia for intelligence about Somalia.

Stay tuned here, as always, for more. 

Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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