Obama Nominates First US Ambassador to Somalia in 24 Years

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A picture taken on February 20, 2015 shows the wreckage of a car near the Central Hotel, close to the presidential palace, in Mogadishu after Somalia's Shebab attacked the hotel. AFP/Mohammed Abdiwahab.

Published Wednesday, February 25, 2015

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated America's first ambassador to Somalia since 1991, when diplomatic ties soured as rival warlords took over the African nation.

Katherine Dhanani, a long-time diplomat, will have to be confirmed by the US Senate for the role in Somalia, where different armed groups have targeted government officials in a bloody campaign.

The Somali government on Wednesday welcomed the nomination of a US ambassador to the country.

"This marks a very positive moment in Somalia's relationship with the US as we work towards achieving security, stability and prosperity," Prime Minister Omar Abdel Rashid Sharmarke said.

The US State Department welcomed the move as "historic" and said it "signals the deepening relationship" between the two countries after they launched a new era of diplomatic relations in 2013.

If confirmed, Dhanani will lead the US mission to Somalia, which is currently based at the US embassy in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"As security conditions permit, we look forward to increasing our diplomatic presence in Somalia and eventually reopening the US embassy in Mogadishu."

The darkest chapter in US-Somali ties came in 1993 when the bodies of US soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by a mob after Somali militants shot down two Black Hawk helicopters.

Eighteen Americans died and 80 were wounded.

The Somali government that finally took power in August 2012 was the first to be given global recognition since the regime fell in 1991. The US recognized the new government in January 2013.

But security remains a major concern in the impoverished country.

Obama's announcement comes only days after al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents killed at least 25 people in an attack on a popular hotel in the capital Mogadishu where government ministers and officials were holding Friday prayers.

Shebab, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012 fought against the government and Ethiopian forces, gaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008.

The Islamist militants controlled Mogadishu and southern Somalia until they were driven out of the capital in 2011 and have steadily lost territory since 2014, but have launched guerrilla-style attacks on Somali army and African Union (AU) forces.

In 2014, AU forces, known as AMISOM, and Somali soldiers recaptured swathes of territory which the AU envoy said had driven Shebab from "85 percent" of areas it had controlled.

In addition to guerrilla attacks in Somalia, Shebab has hit neighboring Kenya, which has sent forces to AMISOM.

Other AMISOM contributors are Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Sierra Leone is a contributor but is pulling out, with other remaining states filling the gap.

(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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