US to boost aid for troops
Washington – The US military is looking for ways to expand the training and equipping of African forces to help battle al-Shabaab militants in Somalia who claimed responsibility for recent bombings in Uganda, a top commander said on Tuesday.
Army General William "Kip" Ward said the African nations who are contributing forces in Somalia remain committed to the peacekeeping effort there despite the attacks last week that killed 76 people.
Al-Shabaab, which has links to al-Qaeda, has threatened more attacks in what worried officials see as the first moves to expand its violence beyond Somalia's borders. The group has said that the bombings were revenge for Uganda's deployment of peacekeepers in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, with the AU force, known as Amisom.
Speaking to a gathering at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Ward said the unrest in Africa creates a security threat to other nations, including the US.
"Violent extremism can grow unchecked in the Horn of Africa and across the Sahel, leading to attacks against US persons and interests around the world, or, in the worst case, against the US homeland," said Ward, who is the head of US Africa Command.
The US, which maintains troops at a base in nearby Djibouti, has not sent forces into Somalia, but instead works through the AU. Direct US or other foreign involvement in Somalia's internal affairs, said Ward, would be "an irritant and a distraction".
But Ward acknowledged that while a number of African nations are willing to participate in peacekeeping efforts, they may be overburdened. The US, he said, must help those countries reinforce their security capabilities.
Somalia has been without a functioning government for nearly 20 years, and militants control much of the country's southern and central regions, including large portions of Mogadishu.
US officials say insurgents, including a number of foreign fighters from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, gather and train in Somalia's vast lawless regions.
The Pentagon, said Ward, is looking for ways to expand the aid it already is providing the African nations, including additional training, equipment, logistical support and transportation for the troops there. He did not provide details and said decisions have not yet been made.
The leader of al-Shabaab, Sheikh Muktar Abu Zubayr, released an audio message saying that more attacks would be carried out in Uganda and Burundi.
There currently are more than 5 000 AU troops in Mogadishu from those two nations. African officials have said that as many as 20 000 more troops are needed.
The twin bombings struck as people watched the World Cup football final on television.