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Ambassador Carson’s Speech on U.S. Policy in Somalia, March 2010

Speakers: Johnnie Carson, and Ertharin Cousin
Published March 12, 2010

Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs, and Ertharin Cousin, Ambassador to the UN Mission in Rome, gave this briefing on Somalia on March 12, 2010 in Washington, DC.

MR. DUGUID: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the State Department. We are here for a special briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, who is our ambassador to the World Food Program in Rome, who joins us from Rome. They will speak to you today about U.S. policy on Somalia.

Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Gordon, thank you very, very much. Thank you all for coming today. I want to take this opportunity to address a number of press reports over the past week characterizing our policy in Somalia, specifically regarding our assistance to the Transitional Federal Government. These reports have not accurately reflected or portrayed our policy position and what we are doing in that country. Today, I will take a few moments to set the record straight and to place our policy in proper context.

U.S. policy in Somalia is guided by our support for the Djibouti peace process. The Djibouti peace process is an African-led initiative which enjoys the support of IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. It also enjoys the support of the African Union and the key states in the region. The Djibouti peace process has also been supported by the United Nations, the European Community, the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Conference. The Djibouti peace process recognizes the importance of trying to put together an inclusive Somali government and takes into account the importance of the history, culture, clan, and sub-clan relations that have driven the conflict in Somalia for the past 20 years.

The Transitional Federal Government, led by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, builds on the progress made during the establishment of the Djibouti peace process. However, extremist elements such as al-Shabaab have been – have chosen to reject the peace process and have waged a violent campaign against the TFG and the people of Somalia in order to impose their own vision for the future in that country.

The United States and the international community, the UN, the AU, and our European allies, among others, have chosen to stand with those seeking an inclusive, peaceful Somalia. We have provided limited military support to the Transitional Federal Government. We do so in the firm belief that the TFG seeks to end the violence in Somalia that is caused by al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations.

However, the United States does not plan, does not direct, and does not coordinate the military operations of the TFG, and we have not and will not be providing direct support for any potential military offensives. Further, we are not providing nor paying for military advisors for the TFG. There is no desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia.

We are also aware of the reporting on the Somali – of the Somalia Monitoring Group’s concerns about the diversion of food and assistance in Somalia. The State Department has received the draft report and we are reviewing it carefully. I will not comment on that report because we have a representative from our Bureau of International Organizations who can answer those questions. But we are concerned about the troubling allegations that are contained in that document.

The Somali people have suffered tremendously throughout more than 20 years of conflict, and Somalia’s turmoil destabilizes not only that country, but the region and also some aspects of the international community. The U.S. recognizes that any long-term solution to the crisis in Somalia must be an inclusive political solution. We continue to call upon all those who seek peace in Somalia to reject terrorism and violence, and to participate in the hard work of stabilizing the country for the benefit of Somalia’s population.

I’d now like to recognize and ask Ambassador Cousin, who is in Rome, whether she would like to add her comments. Thank you.

Ambassador Cousin.

AMBASSADOR COUSIN: Thank you very much, Ambassador Carson. I’d also like to thank the members of the press for your presence and interest in covering these important issues related to Somalia. As Johnnie Carson stated, the Somali people have suffered tremendously during the more than 20 years of conflict in their country.

The Somalia Monitoring Group, more commonly known as the SMG, submitted their report to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee this past week. This SMG report – the SMG reports directly to the Security Council on implementation of the Somalia and Eritrea sanctions regimes. We take the work of the Somalia Monitoring Group very seriously and we are studying its recommendations.

Next week, the Security Council will meet and receive the regular 120-day report from the Chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee that will include a briefing on the committee’s discussion of the SMG’s final report. The Somalia Monitoring Group report contains a number of recommendations, including those regarding the work of the World Food Program in Somalia. We at the U.S. Mission to the UN agencies in Rome are active members of the executive board of the World Food Program. This board regularly examines the work of the World Food Program and the perils its dedicated staff face around the world, particularly in places like Somalia.

In December of 2009, the World Food Program presented a briefing on the – its Somalia program to the World Food Program executive board. After the December board meeting, WFP did take internal measures to address the concerns raised in this internal report. Some of the same types of allegations were raised in the Somalia Monitoring Group’s report. So this morning, the executive board recognized that regardless of the process mandated by the SMG, the board has a responsibility for oversight and governance of the WFP operations. Consensus was reached by the board to ensure that all practices of the WFP in – WFP team in Somalia are in line with the organization’s policies and procedures.

We will continue to work to ensure that the generous contributions of the American people to support the work of the World Food Program are managed in an accountable and transparent manner. We express our gratitude to the WFP staff for their commitment to meet humanitarian needs in the most difficult of circumstances. The United States remains strongly committed to meeting the humanitarian needs of the people of Somalia. We continue to seek ways to ensure that the Somalian people receive the assistance they require.

I’ll end here, Assistant Secretary, and look forward to any questions from the media. Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Before we get to the questions, I would like to make a correction for the record. I described Ambassador Cousin’s – one of her official duties rather than her official title, which is – Ambassador to U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome is her official working title.

As we call on you, please identify yourself and which ambassador you would like to speak to.

Matt.

QUESTION: Matt Lee with AP. Ambassador Carson, you mentioned at the very top – you were talking about a number of recent press reports. Can you be specific about what these reports said? I’m not asking you to identify whatever organization they were responsible. But what did they say? And what is wrong – what was wrong with them?

Secondly, you said that the Djibouti process was supported by IGAD, the AU, and all the countries of the region. But that’s not entirely true, is it? I mean, there is one country that doesn’t support it. Or has Eritrea changed their position? And then –those two very briefly – but then on the military aid that you talked about the several tons of weapons that have been provided to the TFG. Are there any concerns that those weapons may be leaking out in the same way that the food aid was described as leaking out to insurgents?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Let me say, the most prominent article was one that appeared approximately a week ago in The New York Times, written by Jeff Gettleman, and I think co-authored by one of his colleagues, which asserted or carried the assertion that the U.S. Government had military advisors assisting and aiding the TFG, that the U.S. Government was, in fact, helping to coordinate the strategic offensive that is apparently underway now, or may be underway now, in Mogadishu, and that we were, in effect, guiding the hand and the operations of the TFG military. All of those are incorrect. All of those do not reflect the accuracy of our policy, and all of those need to be refuted very strongly. I think my statement clearly outlined what we are doing and why we are doing it.

You indicated that one state in the region has not joined in, and that is absolutely true; that is Eritrea. But Eritrea, in fact, stands alone. What my statement said was that all key states in the region, all the important states in the region – and I would include among them Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and other members of IGAD --

QUESTION: You’re not planning to meet up with President Isaias anytime soon, are you?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Whenever an opportunity presents itself to engage President Isaias in a conversation that will lead to peace and a cessation of Eritrean support for spoilers in the region, I will do so.

With respect to military weapons, we try as best we possibly can to ensure through a number of mechanisms that any assistance, any assistance that we give to the TFG, directly or indirectly, is accounted for and audited through mechanisms that we believe are very good.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any concerns that weapons have – may have gone to insurgents?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: There are allegations out there. But let me say that because of two decades of conflict and instability in Somalia, the country is awash with arms and, in fact, is an international arms bazaar. Weapons can be acquired very easily on the black market and they can be sold very easily on the black market. We undertake, through a number of mechanisms, including one that we have intentionally put in place to monitor any support that we give, to ensure that every possible effort is maintained over the handling of any assistance we provide.

QUESTION: Andrew Quinn from Reuters. I have one question for Ambassador Cousin. I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about what the practical results will be of this consensus you spoke of with regards to the WFP activity in Somalia and the U.S. role in providing some of the food aid there. Is that going to – if it’s stopped, is it going to resume? What happens now?

And for Ambassador Carson, I was wondering – and you’re talking about the inclusive – hoping for an inclusive resolution of the situation. Do you – does the U.S. foresee or encourage a sort of Afghanistan-style reintegration effort, reaching out to members of al-Shabaab and so on to bring them perhaps back on board with the TFG or other sort of more centrist elements?

And secondly, what does – does the U.S. have a position on the AU’s calls for UN peacekeepers in Somalia? Where do we stand on that one?

MR. DUGUID: Ambassador Cousin first. Ambassador Cousin, please.

AMBASSADOR COUSIN: Thank you. The board will continue to work with WFP to ensure that all the policies and procedures of WFP are followed in Somalia, just as they are in other countries where WFP partners with the U.S. and other countries in the delivery of food assistance. We, the United States, as well as the board continue to be committed to supporting the food security needs of the people of Somalia.

MR. DUGUID: Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR CARSON: On the issue of inclusiveness, we believe that the long-term solution for Somalia’s conflict is to be found in a political reconciliation. We believe that it is important for the TFG to reach out to broaden its base as much as possible, to bring in as many clan and sub-clan groups as possible, to include among its rank other moderate Islamist groups and Somalis who were not a part of that group. I would think that any moderate Islamists who are seeking peace, who are denouncing al-Shabaab, and who want to be a part of a peace process should, in fact, be considered for inclusion in a TFG government.

With respect to the call by the AU for a UN peacekeeping force in Somalia, I think that it is important at this point that AMISOM do the job that it has committed itself to do, that more African countries step up to participate in the AMISOM force, along with the Ugandan, Burundian, and Djiboutian troops who are already on the ground.[1] The force was – for AMISOM was originally supposed to be 8,000 men. It is only slightly over 5,000. We hope other African nations will come forward to make contributions to the effort in Somalia.

The Africans, as I’ve indicated, have recognized the importance of stabilizing that country. This has been recognized in IGAD, in AU resolutions, and the commitment by African countries themselves to put troops on the ground. This is essentially an African effort, an African-led effort that does deserve the support of the international community. But it is important that AMISOM do the primary work of trying to establish peace in that country.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you. We’ll go back to the third row, then we’ll come back to the second row. Yes, please, sir.

QUESTION: I have three small questions. The first one is: I know you stated very clearly that United States is not coordinating or involving any impending military offensive by the TFG. But has the TFG requested any military assistance, specifically aerials and military strikes, from the United States Government? And if so, what was your response or your reply to them?

And the other question is: Have there been any military advisors from the United States Government or any sort of covert military presence in Somalia, in Mogadishu during the past few months? Because in Mogadishu, the talk is that there is a very strong feeling that there are some sorts of military advisors from the United States Government in Mogadishu. So can you confirm whether there has been any visit, any sort of visit from the United States Government, military advisors to Somalia?

And the third and final question: As you said, you do not want to Americanize the Somali TFG military operations. But in September 2009, we know that an operation by the United States Government killed one of the al-Qaida leaders in East Africa in Somalia. So how does these two arguments go along?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Let me respond to all three questions. I have not, in my office, received any formal or informal request from the TFG for airstrikes or operations in support of the offensive that may be underway right now. I have seen newspaper comments of TFG leaders responding to questions that have been posed to them about whether they would be willing to accept outside support. But we have not received any, I have not received any, my office has not received any requests for airstrikes or air support or people on the ground to assist the TFG in its operations. The TFG military operations are the responsibilities of the TFG government.

I will reiterate what I said in my statement: We do not have any American U.S. military advisors on the ground assisting the TFG in its operations. It should be very clear: We do not have any American U.S. military advisors on the ground. We are not planning, coordinating any of the TFG’s military operations. It is for the TFG leadership to determine how its military operates on the ground.

Finally, the issue of Americanization of this. This is not an American conflict. This is a conflict among Somalis that Africans and members of the international community recognize as being extremely important for Somalia, for the region, and for the international community. It will be up to the Somalis to ultimately resolve this conflict. The U.S., along with others in the international community, can contribute in a supporting role, which we do and acknowledge, but not to become directly engaged in any of the conflict on the ground there.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, the Somali Government itself is saying that the conflict is not a Somali conflict anymore; there is the clear affiliation by al-Shabaab with al-Qaida on the other and U.S. military operation last year in the south of Somalia. And in 2000, there were at least three other airstrikes. So it’s not a Somali conflict anymore. Your take on that?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: That is a misreading of Somalia’s history, its culture, and its long period of internecine conflict inside the country, as well as in the region itself. Somalia has been torn apart by internal strife for more than two decades. That two decades supersedes many of the terrorist activities and events that you would like to associate with Somalia.

Somalia’s problems are the result and absence of a central government, constant tensions between various regions among the five major clans and many sub-clans that exist. There are indeed individuals who have more recently come in from outside of the country to take advantage of some of the chaos and disorganization that exists there, but Somalia’s problems are to be resolved by Somalis by recognizing the reasons and causes of the conflict in their own country. Somalia’s people have to work together to bring peace to their country.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you. As our time is limited, let’s try and limit the follow-ons, please. Yes.

QUESTION: Catherine Herridge of Fox News. How would – Ambassador, how would you characterize the relationship between al-Shabaab, which appears to be growing bolder every day, and al-Qaida in Yemen, and what that will mean for the United States?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: There is no question that some individuals, mostly in the senior leadership of al-Shabaab, are affiliated either directly or indirectly with international terrorist groups. Some would like to be even more affiliated. But it is important to recognize that al-Shabaab, which no doubt is carrying out many terrorist activities in that country, is not a homogeneous, monolithic, or – group that is comprised of individuals who completely share the same political philosophy from top to bottom.

QUESTION: But just to follow up on that, because certainly, what the – it’s not an American problem. I understand what you’re saying there. But certainly, there are very significant American interests involved, given that al-Shabaab is actively recruiting Americans of Somali descent in this country to train in the camps there. And just this week, al-Shabaab has said that it’s not afraid of any American intervention in that country.

AMBASSADOR CARSON: The young Somalis who were recruited in this country to go back to Somalia to fight went back to fight against the Ethiopian incursion that occurred in that country. They did not go back to protest or to fight against the – any kind of a U.S. policy in that country. And it’s very clear that they went back for Somali nationalistic reasons. They went back to fight Ethiopians who --

QUESTION: But we were backing the Ethiopians. Was the U.S. not backing the –

AMBASSADOR CARSON: They went back to fight against Ethiopians. The United States was not in Somalia.

MR. DUGUID: Charlie.

QUESTION: Ambassador Carson, Charlie Wolfson from CBS. Can you just give us a dollar figure here of how much aid? And maybe to the ambassador in Rome, Cousin – Ambassador Cousin, how much money is the U.S. giving for this effort either on the food side or totally?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: I’ll let Ambassador Cousin speak to the food issue. But with respect to U.S. support for AMISOM, the United States, as a member of the Contact Group and as a member of the international community, has provided something in the neighborhood of $185 million over the last 18 or 19 months.[2] And that is in support of the AMISOM peacekeeping effort – Uganda, primarily, but Burundi and Djibouti as well. Funding going to the TFG from the United States has been substantially smaller, and that number is approximately $12 million over the last fiscal year.[3] So the amounts of money that we are talking about are really relatively small.

I’ll let Ambassador Cousin speak to the food issue.

AMBASSADOR COUSIN: Thank you. Our food aid, our food assistance budget for Somalia is approximately $150 million. But at this time, the WFP is not operating in the southern region of Somalia, and our operational and food aid support to Somalia is limited to the northern region of Somalia only.

MR. DUGUID: Charley, then David. And I think that’s about all we’ll have time for. Charley.

QUESTION: Please, sir. Charley Keyes of CNN. You’ve spoken several times about what U.S. military assistance is not, but can you be any more specific about what U.S. military assistance to Somalia is?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Well, let me just say the United States Government in support of AMISOM, largely through programs run by the Department of State, has, in fact, provided assistance to AMISOM. We have supported the acquisition of non-lethal equipment to the Governments of Burundi and to Uganda, in particular. We have provided them with military equipment, and this ranges every – from everything from communications gear to uniforms.

We have supported the training of TFG forces outside of Somalia, mostly in Uganda but also in Djibouti. We have paid for the transportation of the troops back from their training places abroad into the country. We have also paid for specialized training given by Ugandans to the Djiboutians to deal with such things as improvised explosive devices, training for the protection of ports and airports. But this has been done by the Ugandans, not by any U.S. Government military officials.

So those are some of the things. And everything that we have done, we have reported, as required, to the UN Sanctions Committee.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you. David, final question.

QUESTION: Dave Gollust from Voice of America. You keep reading that the transitional government, like, controls a matter of blocks in Mogadishu, that it’s very weak, it’s very threatened. What is your take on its survivability?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: I think the TFG has demonstrated in an enormous capacity to survive. When Sheikh Sharif took office as the head of the TFG approximately 16 months ago, there were individuals who predicted that his government would fall within a matter of months

and that he would not be able to reside and govern from Mogadishu. That has not been true. Almost a year ago, in May of last year, al-Shabaab mounted an enormously large offensive designed to break the back of the TFG and the will of AMISOM. They failed to do so. The fact that the TFG remains standing is a reflection of its resolve and the commitment of its leaders to stand up against al-Shabaab. And they are demonstrating their capacity to do so on a daily basis.

There is no doubt that the TFG is still fighting very hard to regain control over most of Mogadishu. Reports that it controls only three, four, or five city blocks are erroneous. What the TFG does control is the main port of Mogadishu, the two main airports, and all of the central government buildings. It has clear control over a third of the city. And probably two-thirds of the city, some of which is controlled by al-Shabaab, remains largely contested territory. We hope that as the TFG builds up its military forces, that it will be able to provide more security, exert more control over the city, and demonstrate its capacity to protect the citizens of the country. We also hope that it will also be more inclusive, reach out to other clans and sub-clans, and to expand its political influence, and also to be able deliver services.

But again, I want to emphasize, these are the responsibilities of the TFG. This is a Somali problem primarily that has affected the region and, to a certain extent, the international community. The United States believes that the Somalis and Africans should not – should, in fact, remain in the lead. This is not an American problem and we do not seek to Americanize the conflict there.

MR. DUGUID: Assistant Secretary Carson, thank you. Ambassador Cousin, thank you very much for appearing with us today.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. That concludes today’s briefing. Please stand by for the regular daily press briefing, which should begin shortly.

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[1] Djiboutian troops are not on the ground in Mogadishu as of yet. They have not deployed, and may not until January 2011. AMISOM still consists entirely of Ugandan and Burundian troops.

[2] $185M is our cumulative support since 2007.

[3] $12M in in-kind support and $2M in direct cash support to the TFG.

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