US & Canada

Obama approves US military assistance to Somalia

Somali soldiers take part in a training exercise on 28 March 2013 at a camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia
Image caption The US decision allows Somalia's new government to buy light arms

President Barack Obama has cleared the way for the US to provide military assistance to Somalia as it rebuilds itself following years of conflict.

Mr Obama issued a memo to Secretary of State John Kerry saying it would "strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace".

The move now gives Mr Kerry the option to provide defence aid to Somalia.

Last month, the UN Security Council agreed to partially lift its ban on selling arms to Somalia for a year.

The decision allows Somalia's new government to buy light arms to help it in its fight against the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab Islamist militant group.

Some countries had been reluctant to ease the ban for fear of fuelling insecurity in Somalia.

But a lifting of the embargo - the world's oldest, having been imposed in 1992 - had been pushed for by the new government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Black Hawk Down

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, said that Mr Obama's decision was "not based on any particular new threat assessment or any specific plans to undertake action".

Image caption President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is trying to rebuild Somalia after two decades of conflict

"It does not constitute a decision to provide particular assistance or to change the nature of our assistance for Somalia's security sector," she added.

The US officially recognised Somalia in January, acknowledging the new government's progress towards political stability and attempts to end the al-Shabab insurgency.

Washington never formally cut diplomatic ties with Somalia, but the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident, when 18 American servicemen were killed after militia fighters shot two US military helicopters out of the sky, marked the country's descent into anarchy.

President Mohamud took office in 2012 after the first election of its kind since the fall of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

A relative newcomer to politics with no association to the violence and corruption of the past, he has won the backing of the West as he attempts to reunite a country torn apart by two decades of civil conflict.

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