State Dept Press Conference in Rome to Respond to Media Reports on Somalia–Carson speaks to NY Times piece

The State Department held a press conference Friday in Rome (and quickly released the transcript) with Asst. Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and Ambassador to the UN Mission in Rome Ertharin Cousin to respond to media reports about US Somalia policy. In response to the first question, from the AP, to be specific about the media they were responding to, Amb. Carson said:

the most prominent article was one that appeared approximately a week ago in The New York Times, written by Jeff Gettleman, and I think co-authored by one of his colleagues, which asserted or carried the assertion that the U.S. Government had military advisors assisting and aiding the TFG, that the U.S. Government was, in fact, helping to coordinate the strategic offensive that is apparently underway now, or may be underway now, in Mogadishu, and that we were, in effect, guiding the hand and the operations of the TFG military. All of those are incorrect. All of those do not reflect the accuracy of our policy, and all of those need to be refuted very strongly. I think my statement clearly outlined what we are doing and why we are doing it.

In a nutshell, Carson is saying that the US strongly endorses the TFG; the TFG is a reflection of the “Djibouti peace process”; that the “Djibouti peace process” is an African-initiated process supported by the IGAD and “the key states in the region” as well as the African Union, and the EU and the other various international powers that be–along with the US. BUT, don’t blame us for whatever the TFG is talking about doing, or is in the process of doing, militarily to escalate an offensive against the extremist Al-Shabaab. (“However, the United States does not plan, does not direct, and does not coordinate the military operations of the TFG, and we have not and will not be providing direct support for any potential military offensives. Further, we are not providing nor paying for military advisors for the TFG. There is no desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia.”)

As for details of US spending:

But with respect to U.S. support for AMISOM, the United States, as a member of the Contact Group and as a member of the international community, has provided something in the neighborhood of $185 million over the last 18 or 19 months.[2] And that is in support of the AMISOM peacekeeping effort – Uganda, primarily, but Burundi and Djibouti as well. Funding going to the TFG from the United States has been substantially smaller, and that number is approximately $12 million over the last fiscal year.[3] So the amounts of money that we are talking about are really relatively small. [the footnotes say that Carson’s figure for AMISOM is cumulative to 2007; that Djiboutian troops aren’t there yet; and that the $12M to the TFG is “in kind” with about $2M in direct cash]

In other words, we spend most of our money on the military peacekeeper mission.  Short press conference, no follow up on this.  Like, why so little money for the TFG when we so strongly endorse it rhetorically?

On TFG requests for US military assistance:

I have not, in my office, received any formal or informal request from the TFG for airstrikes or operations in support of the offensive that may be underway right now. I have seen newspaper comments of TFG leaders responding to questions that have been posed to them about whether they would be willing to accept outside support. But we have not received any, I have not received any, my office has not received any requests for airstrikes or air support or people on the ground to assist the TFG in its operations. The TFG military operations are the responsibilities of the TFG government.

That seems quite clear, and explicitly narrow.

On the Somalia Monitoring Group report leaked to the NY Times about the diversion of food aid, no claim that the report itself is inaccurate or that the reporting is inaccurate.  The report will be reviewed by the Security Council next week.  The issues are not new.  The World Food Program has taken some action in the recent past.  The World Food Program board decided just this morning that it would apply and follow all its policies in Somalia. The World Food Program follows its policies in all countries, etc, etc. . . .

What do you think?

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