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U.S. has begun sending weapons to help Somalia

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has begun sending arms to the government of Somalia, officials said Thursday, in an escalation of its commitment to one of the world’s most troubled states.

State Department officials said the weapons are intended to help sustain a transitional federal government that is losing ground to Islamic militants amid a spreading humanitarian catastrophe. The administration also is stepping up humanitarian aid to the country, said officials, who declined to disclose how much will be spent.

“We are concerned,” said Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman, speaking about the Somali government’s stability.

The money would help “repel the onslaught of extremist forces which are intent on … spoiling efforts to bring peace and stability to Somalia,” Kelly said.

The move is a signal that the Obama administration wants to broaden its commitment to sub-Saharan Africa, going beyond the counterterrorism programs that were the Bush administration’s primary focus, officials said.

Yet, greater involvement in the impoverished Horn of Africa also carries risk and comes at a time when the United States already is struggling with the burden of its military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The record of former President Bill Clinton’s first year in office was tarnished by the killing of 18 U.S. Army Rangers in an October 1993 raid in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

The new effort will not involve any U.S. troops, officials emphasized. U.S. officials hope that the aid will lead other countries to make their own contributions to support a transitional government.

U.S. officials and their allies fear that a victory by the Shabab extremist group and other insurgents would further destabilize the region and make the country a safe haven for international terrorist groups.