The United States will invite other nations to a strategy session next week on Somalia, where an Islamic militia group has routed U.S.-backed warlords and tightened its grip on the lawless nation.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that European and African nations are among the members of an international consortium that will try to coordinate support for Somalia, which has had no fully working government for 15 years.
McCormack offered few details of the group or its agenda. The short notice reflected concern here about the tightening grip of the militia on the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and other cites.
On Tuesday, President Bush indicated concern that Somalia could become as Afghanistan was under the Taliban.
“There’s instability in Somalia,” Bush said. “The first concern, of course, is to make sure that Somalia does not become an al-Qaida safe haven — it doesn’t become a place from which terrorists can plot and plan.”
Dubbed the Somalia Contact Group
The United States has scrambled over the past week to respond to the collapse of the secular alliance of warlords it viewed as a counter to a militia with alleged links to al-Qaida.
“There are a number of different countries that have programs related to Somalia,” McCormack said. “So this is an opportunity for them to talk about what they’re doing individually, how you might coordinate ... how you might look at doing things jointly.”
The gathering in New York will mark the inaugural meeting of what will be known, as the Somalia Contact Group, McCormack said.
Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer will head the U.S. delegation. McCormack said a goal of the meeting will be to support Somalia’s transitional government, a weak entity that has no presence in the capital. Its main strength comes from the many foreign governments, the United States included, that support it.
Militia won Mogadishu Monday
The United States has no embassy in Somalia, a desperate and poor nation with a dark history for U.S. involvement.
The U.S. has not carried out direct action in Somalia since the deaths of 18 servicemen in a 1993 battle in Mogadishu depicted in the book and film “Black Hawk Down.”
The Islamic fighters seized control of Mogadishu on Monday, defeating U.S.-backed warlords after weeks of fighting that left more than 330 people dead.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, have confirmed cooperating with the warlords in an attempt to root out any al-Qaida members operating in the Horn of Africa.
The Bush administration has not confirmed or denied backing the alliance, saying only that it supports those who fight terror.
The militia, which hopes to establish a government based on Islamic law, is gaining ground just as the U.N.-backed interim government struggles to assert control outside its base in Baidoa, 155 miles from Mogadishu.
The militia is the first group to consolidate control over the capital since the last government collapsed in 1991 and warlords took over, dividing this impoverished country of 8 million people into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms.