ALGIERS (Reuters) - The United States will persevere with its policy of supporting Somalia’s fragile government because restoring security there will take time, the top U.S. military commander for Africa said on Wednesday.
The U.S. military has been providing weapons and training to forces loyal to Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, but the government still only controls a few blocks of the capital with the rest of the country in the hands of Islamist rebels.
“What’s going on in Somalia did not just get that way. It won’t correct itself overnight either,” General William E. Ward, commander of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, told reporters during a visit to Algeria.
“And so the current policy, that has international support, not just from the United States, to reinforce, to help the transitional federal government, and be supportive of the African Union mission to Somalia is where we ... also see our big contribution,” he said.
The al Shabaab militant group, who Washington says is al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia, has been waging a two-and-a-half year insurgency against the central government to impose its harsh version of Sharia law throughout the country.
Troops from the African Union are protecting government sites in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
Western security agencies say Somalia has become a safe haven for militants who use it to plot attacks on Western targets, and also a bolt-hole for pirates who have been hijacking ships in the Indian Ocean.
Ward was in the Algerian capital for meetings with officials that focused on the threat from violent extremism in another part of Africa, around the Sahara desert.
He said the U.S. military would continue to provide counter-terrorism training to Sahara region governments but that there were no plans for U.S. forces to take part directly in operations against insurgents.
Diplomats say al Qaeda-linked rebels who have been fighting the Algerian government have in the past few years shifted some of their activities south into the Sahara, staging attacks in countries including Mali and Mauritania.
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Victoria Main