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U.S. Needs To Do More In Somalia, Sen. Jack Reed Says


When four members of the U.S. special forces were killed last year in Niger, many Americans, even lawmakers, responded with surprise - surprise that the U.S. military was quite so involved in Niger. Think of this next interview as an opportunity not to be surprised because the U.S. military is busy in multiple African nations, including Somalia. The U.S. works with local forces that control Mogadishu, the capital on the coast. An extremist group called al-Shabab controls parts of the countryside. Democratic Senator Jack Reed, a leading voice on foreign affairs, visited Mogadishu a few days ago.

JACK REED: I left there feeling that we can keep al-Shabab off-base, off-kilter, if you will, but that, you know, they control so much territory. And there is a situation where the Somali government doesn't have the confidence of its people. And ironically, al-Shabab is operating outside of Mogadishu, but they're effectively collecting taxes. They're adjudicating local disputes. They have a legitimacy in some places that the government doesn't have. And until we reverse that - and that's not just military action; that's a lot of support for economic development, support for expanding government's - the Somali government's role - al-Shabab will still be there. And if they're there, they have the capacity to plot against us not just there, but throughout the region and the world.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should note, Mogadishu is in control of the government. But if U.S. diplomats are restricted to the airport, Mogadishu cannot be the most secure city.

REED: It is not the most secure city. They had a terrible incident last October 14. Five hundred people were killed in a vehicle-borne explosive device. In fact, it was so shocking that I think al-Shabab basically didn't want to claim responsibility. I was there 25 years ago in the 1990s when we had forces there, and to go back - the city itself has actually grown, expanded. Business is - seems to be improving. The Turks have invested in the airport and also a seaport. So there's economic activity that didn't exist before, but there's a suspicion that that's being tolerated, if you will, by al-Shabab because they're getting some kickbacks.

INSKEEP: We're talking here about an area of foreign policy where President Trump has been very engaged. He's been very vocal against terrorism. This is one thing he definitely wants to do overseas. Having traveled around the region a little bit, do you feel that you were looking at part of a coherent strategy on the part of the United States?

REED: I was looking at a strategy from a military perspective that is focused. It's also well-resourced. They're also beginning to understand that the battle is not just kinetics - you know, shooting back and forth. It's information warfare. It's disrupting the websites. It's getting into their - the whole social media message of these terrorist groups. But what's lacking is the complimentary and sometimes more important domestic or diplomatic effort. That seems to be something that is being shunned by the administration - not just not resourced properly, but shunned.

INSKEEP: Do you think it's being shunned because that's viewed as nation building?

REED: Well, I think it's being shunned for many reasons. I think it's being shunned - the view is nation building, but I think it's being shunned also with the notion that, you know, it's like a business deal. You know, you go in, and you send in your top negotiator. He doesn't need expert - or she doesn't need experts. You know, that's not, in many respects, the way to do it. You need experts. You need constant dialogue. You need to implement anything you agree to. And you need to sort of verify and check out all the different proposals you're hearing from experts.

INSKEEP: Senator Jack Reed, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

REED: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.