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WASHINGTON —The United States has donated more than 60 tons of weapons and ammunition to the Somali National Army, or SNA, to boost ongoing operations against the militant group al-Shabab and for future training of an elite infantry unit, according to the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu.
A statement from the embassy Wednesday said the weapons arrived in Mogadishu's international airport aboard two U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo planes that were greeted by Somalia's minister of defense and chief of defense forces, as well as Embassy Mogadishu Chargé d'Affaires Tim Trinkle.
According to the U.S. statement, the weapons included "Sixty-one tons of AK-47s, heavy machine guns, and ammunition."
"This military assistance will support the current SNA operations against al-Shabab in Galmadug and Jubaland States and the next intake of the SNA Danab Advanced Infantry Brigade, for which the recruitment process has already started," said the statement.
The State Department has also offered a new $5 million reward for information leading to the "identification or location" of al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamed Rage.
Rage, also known as Ali Dheere, has been the group's chief spokesperson since 2009. The State Department said he has been involved in the planning of militant attacks in Kenya and Somalia.
The Somali National Army, working with various local clan militias, launched an offensive in central Somalia last year that has succeeded in wrestling back control of numerous towns and villages that had been controlled by al-Shabab, which ran them with its customary harsh brand of Islamic law.
Analysts have warned that Somalia's national and state governments must maintain security and provide economic aid in the recaptured areas to keep them from sliding back into militant control.
That issue came up this week as representatives of Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. met in Washington to discuss Somalia's security, state-building, development, and humanitarian priorities.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that the participants expressed support for the Somali government's focus on counterterrorism and capacity building.
"The partners agreed to strengthen coordination of international security assistance, and the importance of ensuring timely delivery of stabilization assistance to newly liberated areas," the statement said.
The statement added that the participants are committed to support Somalia's efforts to meet the benchmarks on weapons and ammunition management to enable the U.N. Security Council to fully lift the arms controls on the Federal Government of Somalia.
The Council has so far declined to lift a longstanding arms embargo on Somalia for fear that weapons could fall into the hands of militants or other non-governmental actors.
The U.S. Embassy said the weapons that arrived Tuesday in Mogadishu "are marked and registered pursuant to the Federal Government of Somalia's Weapons and Ammunition Management policy, designed to account for and control weapons within the Somali security forces and weapons captured on the battlefield."
In an interview with VOA Somali Service, Somalia's State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ali Mohamed Omar said this week's meeting in Washington was "fruitful."
"Our goal was to submit our requests to our partners such as training, logistics, stabilization resources, humanitarian, and development, and our partners' goal was to discuss how to better support Somalia, including the fight against al-Shabab," said Omar.
"We are waiting for their response to our needs and the assistance we have asked as well as decisions regarding increasing the coordination of their support to Somalia," he added.
"A very productive meeting," Somalia's national security adviser, Hussein Sheikh-Ali, tweeted after the Washington gathering.
VOA Somali Service's Falastine Iman contributed to the report.