The Cable

State Dept.: Al-Shabab down, but not out in Somalia

The Al-Shabab terrorist group has been"significantly degraded" but not defeated in Somalia, which is why the UnitedStates is pushing for an expansion of international troops there, according toa senior State Department official.

Secretaryof State Hillary Clinton is enroute today to London to attend a major conference on Somalia being hosted Thursdayby British Prime Minister David Cameron andForeign Secretary William Hague. OnFriday, Clinton and several of the other foreign ministers will travel to Tunisto attend the first ever meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group.

Oneof the main goals of the Somalia conference is to round up funding for addingthousands of additional foreign troops to the AfricanUnion Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) tosupport the fragile Transitional Federal Government (TFG) there and fight Al-Shabab.

"There's no question that al-Shabab has been significantlyweakened over the last two years, in large measure to the security --aggressive security posture taken by AMISOM, Ugandans, and Burundians inparticular," a senior State Department official told reporters on the plane toLondon.

"In the last year, they have beencompletely removed from the core of Mogadishu and have been driven furthernorth beyond the university. Al-Shabab remains a serious threat in many partsof south-central, but they have been put under enormous pressure in the northwestby Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, supported by Ethiopia, and under pressure in the southby the incursion of the Kenyans. They have not been defeated, but they havebeen significantly degraded and they are under continuing pressure."

Al-Shabab is affiliated with al Qaeda,which has also seen several of its senior leaders in East Africa killed overthe last year and a half, the official said. Two al Qaeda leaders killed inEast Africa were associated with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies inNairobu and Dar Es Salaam, and the 2002 bombing of the Paradise Hotel inMumbasa.

In anticipation of the Somaliaconference, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimouslyWednesday to authorize the increase of the AMISOM from 12,000 to 17,731 troops.That will allow AMISOM to incorporate some 4,000 Kenyan troops into its structureand expand its operations well outside the area surrounding Mogadishu, theofficial said.

The Security Council also banned theexport of charcoal out of Somalia, which is apparently a major source ofrevenue for al-Shabab. When asked how the international community plans toenforce that ban, the State Department official said the United States wouldask neighboring countries to cease importing Somali charcoal.

The TFG has its own problems, buthas committed to a roadmap that calls for the establishment of a constituentassembly, the drafting of a new constitution, and the indirect election of anew president, a new parliament, and a new parliamentary speaker -- all byAugust.

"We hope, coming out of London, thatall of those parties participating -- those from the international community aswell as from the TFG -- will reaffirm their commitment to seeing that thisroadmap is implemented and completed on time," the official said.

Over the last three years, the U.S.government has spent about $385 million on the AMISOM mission in Somalia, aboutone-third of the total international funding commitment. The official said theUnited States wants to see more money come from Arab League nations and Turkey.

At Wednesday's State Departmentpress briefing, spokesman Mark Toner confirmed that Clinton will meet on thesidelines of the conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.When asked what the two officials would discuss, Toner said, "A lot of things, clearly."

"Our goal remains to put thisrelationship back on track, you know, to try to put some of the problems thatwe have had in the relationship, some of the challenges behind us and moveproductively forward," Toner said.

The Cable

Newt will speak at AIPAC

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich may be slipping in the polls, but he will deliver a speech at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, a spokesman for AIPAC confirmed today.

Gingrich's speech will be on the morning on March 5, one day after U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the conference and before the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will speak that evening. Obama and Netanyahu will meet in the Oval Office that day.

Last December, Gingrich made news when he called the Israeli-Palestinian peace process "delusional" and called the Palestinians an "invented" people. He also said the Palestinian Authority and Hamas share "an enormous desire to destroy Israel."

"If I'm even-handed between a civilian democracy that obeys the rule of law and a group of terrorists who are firing missiles every day, that's not even-handed. That's favoring the terrorists," Gingrich said.

Gingrich's campaign has benefited from more than $10 million in donations to a Gingrich-supporting Super PAC from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a close ally of Netanyahu and owner of the daily Israel Hayom.

In addition to Gingrich, Obama, and Netanyahu, the current list of confirmed speakers now includes: Israeli President Shimon Peres, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Jane Harman, CNN Contributor Paul Begala, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Fox News contributor Liz Cheney, editor of The Weekly Standard William Kristol, and political analyst for NBC News Mike Murphy.

Kristol is on the board of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a group that has sponsored several ad campaigns accusing Obama of being "not pro-Israel." The group is also the only Israel-focused advocacy organization to have formed a SuperPAC in the run up to the 2012 election. The other two board members of ECI are Gary Bauer, who today endorsed Rick Santorum, and Rachel Abrams, the wife of former NSC official Elliott Abrams, and the author of the controversial Israel-focused blog "Bad Rachel."