The PJ Tatler

Kerry Becomes First Secretary of State to Visit Somalia, Doesn't Leave Airport

John Kerry today became the first secretary of State to touch down in Somalia.

Kerry made the trip from neighboring Kenya, where took selfies with baby elephants at an orphanage and laid a wreath at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in honor of the 1998 terror attack victims.

In a statement, spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry landed in Mogadishu today “to reinforce the United States commitment to supporting Somalia’s ongoing transition to a peaceful democracy.”

“In his meetings with federal and regional government officials, he will discuss security cooperation and Somalia’s progress towards meeting its reform and development benchmarks in view of its 2016 elections,” Harf said. “He will also meet with civil society leaders to discuss the importance of a vibrant NGO sector and thank African Union troops for their role in stabilizing Somalia.”

Last year on a visit to D.C., Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told PJM that he wants “to see the United States increase its support given to Somalia in terms of economic development so that the grievances that al-Shabaab is utilizing right now are not there.”

“Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, all of them, these are terrorist organizations — they are linked, they live for each other, they support each other and they are connected globally,” Mohamud said. “It’s not just an issue of one country or one region — it’s a global phenomenon that needs to be addressed globally.”

Kerry sat down with Mohamud, but not at the presidential residence: he didn’t leave the airport. He stayed for about three hours before flying back to Kenya.

“The next time I come, we have to be able to just walk downtown,” Kerry declared to Mohamud.

A senior State Department official downplayed the al-Shabaab threat, telling reporters on a background call that the terrorists are “in some small pockets, and the AMISOM troops have been very effective in pushing them out of these pockets.”

“The fact that al-Shabaab is carrying out the asymmetrical attacks that they are doing is a sign that they are being pushed out of areas where they’ve been holding territory. We see it as showing that they are being pushed up against the wall, and we’ll keep pushing them up against the wall until they are brought under control.”

The official said they didn’t announce Kerry’s toe-touch in Somalia for security reasons.

Letting him leave the airport would be “a huge, huge logistical and security challenge for us. The last thing we need is something to happen when the secretary is on the ground. And I don’t think we have the confidence of taking him out of – off the grounds of the airport.”

The official added that Kerry was especially excited about the trip “when he learned he was the first.” He’s not the highest ranking U.S. official to visit, though, as President George H.W. Bush did so in 1993.