WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday denied coordinating plans by Somalia’s embattled government to launch an offensive against Islamist fighters, saying it had no plans to “Americanize” the conflict.
Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson described as inaccurate reports suggesting that U.S. officials were ready to get more militarily involved as Somalia’s government fights the Islamist al Shabaab, which has been linked to al Qaeda.
“The United States does not plan, does not direct, and does not coordinate the military operations of the TFG (transitional federal government) and we have not and will not be providing direct support for any potential military offensives,” Carson said.
Carson told a news briefing the United States had provided limited military support to the transitional government, but that almost all of this was channeled through an African Union peacekeeping effort.
Al Shabaab Islamist fighters attacked government positions this week seeking to seize the advantage before a long-awaited government offensive to drive them out of Mogadishu, the capital.
Somalia has lacked an effective central government for 19 years. Western and neighboring countries say it has become a sanctuary for militants.
Carson said the United States had provided about $185 million over the last 19 months to support African Union peacekeepers and about $12 million in direct support to the Somali transitional government.
“The amounts of money that we’re talking about are really relatively small,” he said. Funds were spent on communications equipment, uniforms, and to support training of government soldiers by other African countries.
The United States also provides about $150 million in food aid to Somalia. This has been complicated by a U.N. World Food Program’s decision to suspend work in much of southern Somalia due to threats against staff and al Shabaab demands for payments for security.
Carson said the United States continued to seek an “inclusive” political resolution to Somalia’s crisis and believed that the transitional government, which only controls a portion of Mogadishu, was best placed to promote one.
“The TFG has demonstrated an enormous capacity to survive,” he said.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Alan Elsner