US Africa commander pays unannounced visit to Somalia

U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Chargé de Affairs to Embassy Mogadishu, Brian Néubert, discussed U.S. and Somalia security developments with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and Somali National Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Ali Barise, during a visit here Nov. 5.

Townsend’s visit to Somalia is his second since taking command in July, and served as an opportunity for him to meet with Somali and key U.S. leaders. He also used the engagement to visit troops and to assess the progress of the campaign in East Africa as well as progress being made against al-Shabaab.

Townsend discussed why it is important to apply pressure to terror networks in Somalia.

“Al-Shabaab, and ISIS, are a threat to our African partners, to U.S. interests in East Africa as well as to the U.S. homeland. They possess the desire and intent to attack the U.S,” Townsend said. “Due to the persistent pressure our campaign puts on Al-Shabaab and ISIS, we believe they lack the actual capability to attack our homeland but we must stay vigilant and keep pressing them.”

The general also remarked on the purpose of military operations.

“U.S operations help to build critical Somali defense capability and counter terrorist plots and plans,” Townsend said. “Our actions keep Somalia, the region, and the U.S. safer and more secure.”

The commander further stressed that while these security gains provide increased optimism for the future, AFRICOM must remain committed to supporting the Somali government efforts to sustain its successes against Al-Shabaab in order to maintain gains.

“Security and stability are critical to stronger government, stronger economies and increased trade. Therefore, our commitment to help our Somali partners improve security and develop their defense institutions remains a top priority for AFRICOM,” Townsend said. “This also requires continued efforts and coordinated support from the international community to make it work.”

President Farmajo commended the strength of the partnership between Somalia and the United States stating, “Somali People are grateful for the solidarity and support of the U.S. Government in the fight against terrorism.  The continued engagement of the U.S. in Somalia provides invaluable assistance to the Somali security forces, and our partnership has inflicted significant damage on terrorist groups seeking to undermine Somali progress.”

On behalf of U.S. Ambassador Don Yamamoto, Chargé Neubert commended recent accomplishments of the SNA to repel Al-Shabaab in the Lower Shabelle region, and reiterated U.S. commitment to the people and government of Somalia to degrade terror groups. He also mentioned how security underpins the necessary development that Somalis seek.

“The Commander’s engagement with Somali leadership maintains momentum on security reforms that are critical to retaking the country from extremists,” said Chargé Neubert.  “Our military partnership with Somalia is strong, and is complemented by the Embassy’s diplomatic and development efforts.”

Acting U.S. Agency for International Development- Somalia Mission Director, Brian Frantz also commented on the importance of synchronizing defense, diplomacy and development efforts.

“Somalia’s challenges will not be resolved through military action alone,” Frantz said. “Ultimately, Al-Shabaab will be rendered irrelevant when Somali children and youth are educated, Somalia’s dynamic private sector is able to create enough jobs for the country’s people, and Somalis feel their leaders represent their interests, all things that USAID supports in Somalia.”

While in Somalia, Townsend also met with Military Coordination Cell leadership. He expressed AFRICOM’s continued commitment to assisting the Federal Government of Somalia with achieving their top priorities of building the capacity of the Somali security forces, implementing the national security architecture, and maintaining pressure on terrorist networks who seek to spread their ideology and violent acts elsewhere.

“Terrorists need to know we will pursue them relentlessly to disrupt and degrade them today and prevent their spread tomorrow,” said Townsend. “As long as terrorists threaten and try to impose their extreme beliefs on the people and their government, they will not be able to sleep peacefully.”

SOURCE: US Africa Command (Africom) website

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