The U.S. military is looking for ways to expand the training and equipping of African forces to help battle al-Shabab militants in Somalia who claimed responsibility for recent bombings in Uganda, a top commander said Tuesday.
Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward said that the African nations who are contributing forces in Somalia are still committed to the peacekeeping effort there despite the attacks last week that killed 76 people.
Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaida, 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 of Mogadishu with the African Union force, known as AMISOM.
Speaking to a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ward said that the unrest in Africa creates a security threat to other nations, including the United States.
“Violent extremism can grow unchecked in the Horn of Africa and across the Sahel, leading to attacks against U.S. persons and interests around the world, or, in the worst case, against the U.S. homeland,” said Ward, who is the head of U.S. Africa Command.
The U.S., which maintains troops at a base in the nation of Djibouti, has not sent forces into Somalia, but instead works through the African Union. Direct U.S. 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 U.S., he said, must help those countries beef up 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.
U.S. 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 is already 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-Shabab, Sheik Muktar Abu Zubayr, released an audio message saying that more attacks would be carried out in Uganda and Burundi. There are currently 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 final on television.