United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Somalia's president on Thursday, showing U.S. support for a fragile government which is battling against Islamists including al-Shabaab insurgents.
Clinton said she would discuss with President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed how the world could help stabilize the Horn of Africa country, which Western security agencies say is a haven for fighters plotting attacks in the region and beyond.
"We know we're facing a very difficult conflict, and we also know that the presence of al-Shabaab and terrorist elements within Somalia poses a threat," said Clinton, ahead of the meeting, on the sidelines of a U.S.-African trade conference.
"It poses a threat to Kenya, poses a threat to the stability of Africa and beyond. So this is an area where we're going to work even more closely together," she added.
Australia said Thursday it was concerned about Somali youths turning to radical Islam as migrants from the war-torn African nation expressed shock at the unearthing of an alleged suicide plot.
Hundreds of Australian police were involved in dawn raids on Tuesday which they say foiled an attack which was just weeks away and would have been the worst seen in Australia.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said police were working to stop Somali youths, many of whom grew up in refugee camps and arrived without their families, being lured into extremism.
"The evidence was that a lot of Somali youths come here literally without families they have no support networks around them and no role models," McClelland told public broadcaster ABC.
Military aid without U.S. troops
The United States has offered military aid to Somalia's government, including more than 40 tons of weapons and ammunition in recent months, as it battles Shabaab.
At the meeting, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Clinton is expected to promise more financial aid, including additional shipments of weapons, although these had been scheduled a while ago, a senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton said.
Washington has also offered training for security forces and logistical help.
The Obama administration has ruled out sending U.S. forces to help fight against Islamist militants. The last U.S. involvement in Somalia-- during Clinton's husband Bill Clinton's presidency--ended in shambles.
There is still debate within the Obama administration over how to handle the crisis and whether putting full U.S. support behind Ahmed is wise.
Ahmed was elected in January under a U.N.-brokered process that was Somalia's 15th attempt to set up a central government since 1991.
Africa expert Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said while Ahmed's government was seen as imperfect, he was also viewed by many as the only option available.
"I am not sure what she is going to get out of this meeting," said Cooke of Clinton's meeting, which is also expected to tackle a rise in piracy off Somalia's coast.
The Horn of Africa's coastal waters—vital shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe—have become a focus of pirates who have made off with countless millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels, including U.S.-flagged ships.
Pirates are expected to step up attacks on ships off Somalia's coast in the coming months as the end of the monsoon season brings better weather.