U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Ahmed Madobe, Interim Juba Administration President, after arriving in Mogadishu, Somalia, on May 6, 2015, for meetings with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, Somali regional leaders, members of Somali civil society, and U.S. Special Representative for Somalia James McAnulty. Photo by State Department/UPI
MOGADISHU, Somalia, May 5 (UPI) -- Secretary of State John Kerry made a historic stop in Somalia on Tuesday, praising the country's efforts to rebuild after two decades of civil war and its continuing battle to defeat al-Qaida-allied militants.
In his unannounced stop, Kerry is the first serving U.S. secretary of state to visit the nation. He was greeted by Somalia's president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, for the nearly four-hour visit in a one-story building at the airport. The top of the agenda was the government's fight against al-Shabab, the main extremest group in Somalia.
Mohamoud told Kerry Mogadishu "is very different now than it was two years ago."
"The roads are less bumpy and we have traffic jams," he told Kerry.
Kerry joked that traffic jams were good, indicating the country was "getting normal."
"Step by step," Kerry said.
"We all have a stake in your success," Kerry said in a video message before departing Mogadishu. "The world cannot afford to have places on the map that are essentially ungoverned. That is why Somalia's return to effective government is an historic opportunity."
A senior State Department official said the visit underscores the U.S.'s long-term commitment to Somalia.
The trip "will send a strong signal to al-Shabab that we are not turning our backs on the Somali people and will continue to engage with Somalia until we bring al-Shabab terror to an end", the official said.
The United States closed its diplomatic mission in the nation in 1991. Many Americans remember the 1993 downing of two American Black Hawk helicopters by Somali militia and the ensuing Battle of Mogadishu.