WASHINGTON — President Obama cleared the way Monday for the United States to arm and train Somali forces, taking a step toward normal relations with the East African nation as it works to build confidence in its newly recognized government.
In a memo to Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama said that supplying defense equipment and services “will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace.” The move doesn’t immediately provide new help but allows Kerry to consider taking that step in the future.
Somalia is trying to preserve progress in establishing its first functional government after two decades of chaos. The U.S. formally recognized the African nation’s new government in January — the first time the U.S. had recognized a Somali government since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Siad Barre and then turned on one another.
A relative peace has returned to Somalia’s war-battered capital of Mogadishu since African Union forces ousted al-Shabab — an extremist group loosely associated with al-Qaida — more than 18 months ago. But al-Shabab rebels are not yet defeated, and the U.S. remains concerned about the threat the group could pose to the region’s stability. The U.S. designated al-Shabab a terrorist group in 2008.
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The United States has provided funds and training to African Union forces fighting al-Shabab in Somalia. It has provided more than $133 million to Somalia since 2007 in security-sector aid to help the country build up and professionalize its security forces. Obama’s memo allows the U.S. to provide equipment, training and other help directly to Somalia’s government and military.