AFRICOM commander sees recent signs of progress in Somalia

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti — Continued success by the American-backed military campaign in Somalia could set the stage for economic development in the country, which has been wracked by years of lawlessness and violence, U.S. officials said.

In high-level talks in Mogadishu on Tuesday, U.S. Africa Command’s Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser and U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto discussed how to keep momentum “moving forward” in the Horn of Africa country, which has been in disarray for more than 20 years.

“We discussed the way ahead and … how we (the United States) can best make a contribution,” Waldhauser told Stars and Stripes. “It’s never a straight line in Somalia. There’s always one step forward, two steps back, but there’s been some fairly good progress in the last few months with regard to taking back some territory al-Shabab had once held.”

The U.S has about 500 troops in the country to help battle the al-Qaida-linked, homegrown terrorist group, which has an estimated 5,000 fighters and has been vying for control of the country for more than a decade.

Efforts to stabilize the country have been complicated by the clan-based society’s skepticism of the central government, a defense official said Wednesday.

Somalia, which consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world, also has a history of resisting outside attempts to impose Western-style order, security analysts have long cautioned. Despite U.S.-supported military successes against them, al-Shabab and more recently the Islamic State in Somalia have proven resilient.

Defense officials spoke about progress as “incremental” in the country, which is slightly smaller than Texas and filled with swaths of ungoverned territory.

But there are encouraging signs of progress, Waldhauser said, citing a recent Somali-led offensive, alongside an international partner force known as the African Union Mission to Somalia, or AMISOM, to take back militant-held territory.

“AMISOM partner forces and the Somalian National Army had been on a little bit of a campaign for the last couple of months,” Waldhauser said. “They’ve been able to hold ground.”

Waldhauser’s visit Tuesday came after the United Nations Security Council last month resolved to extend the AU mission for one year, while withdrawing 1,000 troops from the country and limiting the contingent to about 19,500 troops, as part of a plan to gradually transition security responsibilities to Somali forces by December 2021.

Source: Stars and Stripes