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US for African peace mission to Somalia

india Updated: Jan 12, 2007 12:43 IST
Reuters

†The United States appealed on Friday for a speedy deployment of African peacekeepers in Somalia to prevent a "security vacuum" that could spawn fresh anarchy after a war to oust militant Islamists.

US ally Ethiopia, which is the Horn of Africa's major power, wants to withdraw its military in weeks after helping the interim Somali government rout the Islamists over the New Year.

But diplomats fear that would leave President Abdullahi Yusuf's government vulnerable against the multiple threats of remnant Islamists vowing a guerrilla war, warlords who are seeking to re-create their fiefdoms, and competing clans.

"Deploying an African stabilisation force into Somalia quickly is vitally important to support efforts to achieve stability," Michael Ranneberger, US ambassador for Kenya and Somalia, said in a newspaper opinion piece.

"We welcome the Ugandan commitment to send forces and we are urging other African countries to do so as well... (It) will enable the rapid withdrawal of Ethiopian forces without creating a security vacuum."

The African Union and east African body IGAD have expressed willingness in principle to send more than 8,000 troops into Somalia.

Uganda has said it is ready to provide the first battalion, but Khartoum is nervous of the risks for its soldiers in a nation in chaos since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.

It is still unclear who would fund the mission, which nations would contribute, and how quickly it could be mustered.

Further, with the precedent of African peacekeepers' failure to stop bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region, many doubt they would be able to tame the violence and rivalry in Somalia.

Wary of its post-war nightmare in Iraq, Washington is eager to prevent Somalia descending back into chaos after its first policy goal -- ousting the Islamists -- was achieved.

US officials believe Somalia, under the six-month Islamist rule across most of the south, became a haven for foreign radicals including some of its most wanted Al-Qaeda suspects.

Washington launched an air strike in Somalia on Monday -- its first overt military involvement since a disastrous peacekeeping mission ended in 1994 -- aimed at an Al-Qaeda cell.

That attack took out up to 10 Al-Qaeda allies, but missed its main target of three top suspects, the US government says.

The Washington Post reported on Friday that a small team of US military personnel entered south Somalia after the strike to try and determine who was killed.

If true, that would mark the first known case of US military boots on the ground in Somalia since the 1990s mission which ended soon after local militia downed two Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 US soldiers in Mogadishu.

Washington believes three suspects in 1998 and 2002 bomb attacks in east Africa -- Comorian Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Sudanese Abu Talha al-Sudani and Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan -- have been hiding among fleeing Somali Islamists.

Kenyan authorities have arrested the wives and three children of two of those suspects, a Kenyan counter-terrorism source told the agency on Thursday.

Mohammed and Nabhan's wives and children were caught trying to cross into Kenya from Ras Kamboni, on Somalia's southern tip, long thought by Western and east African intelligence agencies to be the site of a militant training camp.

The US attack on Monday has drawn criticism from the United Nations, many European countries and the Arab League.

Analysts say it risks a backlash from Muslims in the region.

But US envoy Ranneberger said: "Somalia will not be stable as long as foreign terrorists are active there."

He also urged the Yusuf government, set up in 2004 in a 14th attempt to restore central rule to Somalia since 1991, to become more inclusive to guarantee stability.

"We are urging the leadership...to reach out to all segments of Somali society -- the business community, all clans and sub-clans, traditional religious leaders, non-governmental groups and others," he said in the article in Kenya's Nation.

Washington has pledged $40 million in aid and development assistance, plus to support a peacekeeping mission, he said.

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