By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2013 ‚Äì Progress in Somalia has been ‚Äúsignificant,‚Äù a senior Defense Department official told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, and the United States will continue to work with the Somali government to defeat terrorism there.
Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told the committee that al-Shabaab — an al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group — once controlled large swaths of Somalia, including most Somali cities.
‚ÄúToday, Somali, [African Union Mission in Somalia] and Ethiopian forces have weakened al-Shabaab as a conventional fighting force in Somalia,‚Äù she said in prepared remarks.
Still, al-Shabaab remains dangerous, she said. The terror group is capable of launching sophisticated unconventional attacks aimed at the African Union mission and the fledgling Somali government, Dory told the senators.
‚ÄúFor the foreseeable future,‚Äù she added, ‚Äúwe must maintain focus on Somalia to sustain security progress made to date, as al-Shabaab is likely to remain the primary threat to Somalian and East African stability for some time to come.‚Äù
The African Union mission — supported by the United States — has provided critical space for the Somali government to stand up and establish its legitimacy. The United States recognizes the new government and wants to normalize military-to-military contacts. U.S. Africa Command will work with State Department personnel to assist with the development of a unified Somali security force, Dory said.
Piracy that originated from Somalia has been virtually eliminated, Dory said.
‚ÄúAs recently as 2011, Somali pirates held nearly 600 mariners hostage aboard 28 captured ships, and roamed an area the size of the continental United States looking for their next opportunity,‚Äù she said. ‚ÄúToday, thanks to changes in business practices by the commercial maritime industry, and the presence of international naval forces, piracy is almost nonexistent off the coast of Somalia. The last successful hijacking of a major commercial ship was in 2012.‚Äù
Dory said she is encouraged by the way the African Union mission in the country has provided stability. The troops come from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Djibouti and Sierra Leone. They work with Ethiopian forces and the Somali National Army.
The United States and international partners have provided important training and equipment to the Somalis. The proposal for training in fiscal 2014 will stress logistics, personnel management, finance and budgeting and maintenance, Dory said. All this is done in close cooperation with the Somali government.
The antipiracy mission must continue, as the progress made is perishable, she said, adding that Somalia will continue to present problems and opportunities.
‚ÄúWith sustained assistance from the United States and other international partners, Somalia‚Äôs national security apparatus will be better positioned to fend off the al-Shabaab insurgency, and gradually transform the fragile state into a success story,‚Äù she said.