NAIROBI (Reuters) - The nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Somalia has withdrawn, slowing down the appointment of the first envoy since the United States pulled out a military mission in the early 1990s as the country plunged into civil war and chaos.
The withdrawal of the military mission, which had been supporting an aid effort, was prompted by the “Black Hawk Down” incident in which 18 U.S. soldiers were killed when their helicopters were shot down by Somali militias in Mogadishu.
A White House official said that Katherine Dhanani, who had been named in February, withdrew for personal reasons, without giving more details.
Washington had touted the nomination of the career diplomat Dhanani as signaling the deepening relationship between the two countries. John Kerry visited Mogadishu this month, the first U.S. secretary of state to set foot in Somalia.
A second U.S. administration official said the White House hoped to fill the post as soon as possible but did not have a timeline for when a new person would be nominated for Somalia, which is slowly emerging from two decades of war and is still battling an Islamist insurgency.
The U.S. mission to Somalia is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. The State Department said Washington hoped to increase its diplomatic presence in Somalia as security improves.
Continued attacks by al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab militants have complicated government efforts to create security for a referendum on a new federal constitution and parliamentary and presidential elections in 2016.
Al Shabaab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has waged a series of gun and grenade attacks to try to topple the Western-backed government.
The United States intervened in Somalia in 1992 after the overthrow the year before of autocratic President Siad Barre. Initially aimed at assisting humanitarian efforts, the U.S. mission quickly became embroiled in conflict.
In 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed and two helicopters downed in fighting with Somali militias. Hundreds of Somalis also died in the fighting, later depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down”. U.S. troops pulled out in 1994, ending the mission.
Reporting by Edith Honan in Nairobi and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich