Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, didn’t specify exactly when the ambassador would be named, but said it would be “soon.”
There were hopeful signs of improvement in the security and economic conditions in the country, following years when Somalia had become “a synonym for chaos,” she said at the United States Institute of Peace think tank in Washington.
“As a reflection both of our deepening relationship with the country and of our faith that better times are ahead, the president will propose the first US ambassador to Somalia in more than two decades,” Sherman said.
A US diplomat based in Nairobi, the capital of neighbouring Kenya, who travelled sporadically to Mogadishu, has represented US interests in Somalia. A State Department official said the new ambassador would not yet be based permanently in Mogadishu.
Mentioning recent attacks in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya by the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group al Shabaab, Sherman said there was still a tough struggle to secure the country and rebuild its government, economy and infrastructure.
“The path ahead remains rocky and uphill,” she said, adding that now was the best time in a quarter of a century to start realising the post-independence hopes of the former Italian colony for peace and prosperity.
Discussing the US commitment to Somalia’s security, she said “a small contingent of US military personnel, including some special operations forces, have been present in parts of Somalia for several years.”
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Their aim had been to work with Somali and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, providing information and advice on fighting al Shabaab.
Sherman noted there had been a number of direct US military strikes on militant targets, but didn’t specify whether they were drone strikes.
“From time-to-time the US military has conducted such action in Somalia against a limited number of targets who … have been determined to be part of al Qaeda,” she said.
These may continue in the future if it was established that there was a “continuing imminent threat to US persons.”