Washington (AFP) – The United States on Monday welcomed a new ambassador from Somalia, the first in over two decades.The State Department said the government of the troubled east African nation had sent Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke.
“We are pleased to announce the arrival of Ambassador Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the first Somali ambassador to the United States in over twenty years,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
His arrival marks “the latest progress in advancing US-Somali relations,” she added.
Civil war erupted in Somalia more than 20 years ago. Washington recognized the country’s new government, led by internationally-backed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in January 2013.
Earlier this month, US defense officials admitted the US military has secretly maintained forces in the country since 2007, despite earlier public statements claiming it had no presence there until last October.
Washington has deployed up to 120 troops and hopes to bolster its security ties to Somalia’s government as it battles al Qaeda-linked Shebab militants, a defense official recently told AFP privately.
Although the militants have been rolled back out of the capital Mogadishu, large swaths of rural areas are still controlled by the extremists.
The new ambassador takes up his post less than a week after Shebab rebels carried out an attack on Somalia’s presidential palace.
Recent Shebab attacks have targeted key areas of the government or the security forces, seemingly as part of a bid to discredit claims the authorities are winning the war against the Islamists.