US reopens embassy in Somalia after nearly three decades

US announces re-establishment of embassy in capital Mogadishu, after closure in 1991 as Somalia plunged into civil war.

    The US formally recognised Somalia's new federal government in 2013 but had based its diplomatic mission in Kenya [File: Osman Hassan/AP]
    The US formally recognised Somalia's new federal government in 2013 but had based its diplomatic mission in Kenya [File: Osman Hassan/AP]

    The United States has reopened its embassy in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, nearly three decades after it was shut as the Horn of Africa nation plunged into civil war.

    Washington closed its embassy during the 1991 overthrow of then-President Siad Barre's military regime which ushered in decades of chaos. However, diplomatic relations have strengthened in recent years.

    "Today we reaffirm the relations between the American people and the Somali people, and our two nations," said Donald Yamamoto, the US ambassador to Somalia, in a statement on Wednesday. 

    "It is a significant and historic day that reflects Somalia's progress in recent years, and another step forward in regularising US diplomatic engagement in Mogadishu since recognising the federal government of Somalia in 2013," he added. 

    A permanent diplomatic presence was established in Mogadishu in December 2018, but was operated out of Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya.

    In his statement, Yamamoto noted that the US embassy in Mogadishu "will act to enhance cooperation, advance US national strategic interests, and support our overall security, political, and economic development goals and objectives."

    Threat of al-Shabab

    Somalia continues to be wracked by violence and frequent attacks by the armed group al-Shabab.

    On Monday, al-Shabab fighters attempted to storm the US military base in Baledogle in southern Somalia that hosts Somali and US forces and is used to launch drones that attack al-Shabab targets.

    The US military says it has carried out 54 air raids against al-Shabab and a local affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) this year.

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    Al-Shabab was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds.

    However, it still carries out attacks across Somalia, as well as in Kenya, whose soldiers form part of the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force that helps defend Somalia's central government.

    US raids in Somalia surged in April 2017, after President Donald Trump declared the south of the country an "area of active hostilities".

    A statement by the US mission to Somalia on Wednesday noted that the re-establishment of the embassy is another step forward in the resumption of regular US-Somali relations, "symbolising the strengthening of US-Somalia relations and advancement of stability, development, and peace for Somalia, and the region".

    "The US remains a strong partner to Somalia in its effort to build a stable, credible, and democratic country," the statement said.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies