John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Somalia on Tuesday — the first U.S. secretary of state ever to travel to the country riven by decades of war and grappling with an Islamist insurgency.
The secretary of state was greeted upon arrival in Mogadishu by Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who called the visit “a great moment” for his nation.
“I’m glad to be here,” Kerry said, asking if the president had spent a “long time” waiting for his arrival.
“It’s worth waiting,” Mohamud replied.
Kerry’s visit was expected to send a strong message about U.S. involvement in Somalia, which long has been colored by the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” operation in which 18 American troops were killed when militants shot down their helicopters in Mogadishu.
Somalia has lacked a strong central government for more than 20 years — and been battling the scourge of al Shabab, the al Qaeda-linked terror group behind last month’s deadly attack on a university in neighboring Kenya.
The State Department said Tuesday that Kerry’s trip would “reinforce the United States commitment to supporting Somalia’s ongoing transition to a peaceful democracy.”
While in Somalia, Kerry was expected to hold meetings with the country’s president, prime minister and members of civil society.
A senior State Department official said the “historic” visit would “send a strong signal” to the Somali people about U.S. commitment to the nation.
“It will send a strong signal to al Shabab that we are not turning our backs on the Somali people and that we will continue to engage with Somalia until we bring al Shabab’s terror to an end,” the official said ahead of the visit.
The visit also will offer some encouragement to Somalis that “things are improving in the country,” the official added.
— Alexander Smith
Reuters contributed to this report.