By Jamie Crawford
President Barack Obama has targeted the export of charcoal from war-torn Somalia, the sales of which help finance an al Qaeda-affiliated group, the State Department said Friday.
Through an amendment to an already existing executive order, Obama signed on to a resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council earlier this year that banned Somali exports of charcoal.
"The charcoal ban applies significant pressure on Al-Shabaab, which derives much of its income from charcoal exports," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a written statement. "The production of charcoal in Somalia has also had a devastating environmental impact that has exacerbated the country's protracted humanitarian crisis."
Al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist group that operates in southern Somalia, announced its affiliation with al Qaeda earlier this year and pledged its loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's leader.
"Al-Shabaab continues to pose a serious threat to peace, security, and stability of Somalia, including by denying humanitarian access to those in urgent need," Nuland said in the statement.
In addition to the charcoal ban, Friday's amendment also imposes targeted sanctions on anyone misappropriating Somali public funds, using children in armed conflicts in Somalia or committing certain acts of violence against Somali civilians, including sexual and gender-based violence.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a conference in London earlier this year to discuss how the international community could work together to stabilize the chaotic situation in the Horn of Africa country. One topic was the British-sponsored resolution in the Security Council that sought to ban Somali charcoal exports, along with expanding the number of U.N. peacekeeping troops in Somalia and widening their mandate beyond the capital, Mogadishu.
"Much of the charcoal that flows out of south-central Somalia is either taxed or owned by Al-Shabaab," a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Clinton in February. "When charcoal flows out to Yemen, to Saudi Arabia, to places in the Gulf, Al-Shabaab is able to tax this charcoal and to gain resources from it."
Since its inception in 2004, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government has had a difficult time developing the capacity to build and consolidate the country's security and political gains. Its mandate is due to expire in August.
The United States "remains focused on working with its partners in Somalia, the region, and the international community to deter those threatening the peace, security or stability in Somalia," Nuland said.