Date: 6/25/2009 8:18 PM

BC-USSOMALIA:TB _ national/548
Officials say U.S. is sending arms to Somalia

By Paul Richter

Tribune Washington Bureau

(MCT)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has begun sending arms to the government of Somalia, officials said Thursday, in an escalation of its commitment to one of the world’s most troubled states.

State
Department officials said the weapons are intended to help sustain a
transitional federal government that is losing ground to Islamic
militants amid a spreading humanitarian catastrophe. The administration
also is stepping up humanitarian aid to the country, said officials,
who declined to disclose how much will be spent.

“We are concerned,” said Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman, speaking about the Somali government’s stability.

The
money would help “repel the onslaught of extremist forces which are
intent on … spoiling efforts to bring peace and stability to Somalia,” Kelly said.

The
move is a signal that the Obama administration wants to broaden its
commitment to sub-Saharan Africa, going beyond the counterterrorism
programs that were the Bush administration’s primary focus, officials
said.

Yet greater involvement in the impoverished Horn of Africa
also carries risk and comes at a time when the United States already is
struggling with the burden of its military involvement in Iraq and
Afghanistan.

The record of former President Bill Clinton’s first
year in office was tarnished by the killing of 18 U.S. Army Rangers in
an October 1993 raid in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

The
new effort will not involve any U.S. troops, officials emphasized. U.S.
officials hope that the aid will lead other countries to make their own
contributions to support a transitional government.

U.S.
officials and their allies fear that a victory by the Shabab extremist
group and other insurgents would further destabilize the region and
make the country a safe haven for international terrorist groups.

World
powers hoped that the moderate Islamist government that took power in
January could neutralize the threat from more extreme elements. But the
extremists, who want to create an Islamic state, have gained ground
since beginning an offensive last month and now control most of the
capital and much of the rest of southern Somalia.

They
have imposed a harsh Islamic law that includes executions, floggings
and amputations. On Thursday, militants cut off hands and feet of four
men convicted of stealing cell phones, in hopes of deterring other such
crimes.

Their declared goal is to drive out the African Union
troops who have entered from Uganda and Burundi to try to stabilize the
country.

Somalia also has been the base
for pirates who have been preying on international shipping.
International efforts against the pirates have been hindered by world
powers’ reluctance to get involved on the ground in Somalia.

President
Barack Obama promised during the campaign that he would do more to help
Africa than his predecessor did. Officials already have said they
intend to increase the U.S. emphasis in Zimbabwe and Sudan, and the
president plans a visit to Ghana next month to underscore his concern.


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