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Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

3U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a news conference in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, August 5, 2009.

Clinton seeks to bolster Somalia’s weak government

NAIROBI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Somalia’s president on Thursday, showing U.S. support for a fragile government which is battling against militants including al Shabaab insurgents.

Australian police said this week they had uncovered a plot to attack an army base in Sydney by men with alleged links to al Shabaab which Washington accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

Clinton said she would discuss with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed how the world could help stabilise the Horn of Africa country, which Western security agencies say is a haven for militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond.

“We know we’re facing a very difficult conflict, and we also know that the presence of al Shabaab and terrorist elements within Somalia poses a threat,” said Clinton, ahead of the meeting, on the sidelines of a U.S.-African trade conference.

“It poses a threat to Kenya, poses a threat to the stability of Africa and beyond. So this is an area where we’re going to work even more closely together,” she added.

The United States has offered military aid to Somalia’s government, including more than 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition in recent months, as it battles al Shabaab.

At the meeting, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Clinton is expected to promise more financial aid, including additional shipments of weapons, although these had been scheduled a while ago, a senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton said.

Washington has also offered training for security forces and logistical help.

NO U.S. TROOPS

The Obama administration has ruled out sending U.S. forces to help fight against Islamist militants. The last U.S. involvement in Somalia — during Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton’s presidency — ended in shambles.

In a battle that inspired the film “Black Hawk Down”, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu in October 1993, marking the beginning of the eventual withdrawal of a U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force from Somalia.

There is still debate within the Obama administration over how to handle the crisis and whether putting full U.S. support behind Ahmed is wise.

Ahmed was elected in January under a U.N.-brokered process that was Somalia’s 15th attempt to set up a central government since 1991.

Africa expert Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington thinktank, said while Ahmed’s government was seen as imperfect, he was also viewed by many as the only option available.

“I am not sure what she is going to get out of this meeting,” said Cooke of Clinton’s meeting, which is also expected to tackle a rise in piracy off Somalia’s coast.

The Horn of Africa’s coastal waters — vital shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe — have become a focus of pirates who have made off with countless millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels, including U.S.-flagged ships.

Pirates are expected to step up attacks on ships off Somalia’s coast in the coming months as the end of the monsoon season brings better weather.

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