U.S. Navy Vessels Head to Somalia Coast to Patrol for Al Qaeda Militants

U.S. Navy vessels are deployed off the coast of Somalia to make sure Al Qaeda and allied jihadists are not able to escape the country by sea now that the once-dominant Islamist forces in Somalia are in retreat, the State Department said Wednesday.

Of particular concern is the fate of three Al Qaeda militants who were believed by U.S. officials to be under the protection of the Islamic Courts Union in Khartoum until Ethiopian forces drove the Courts from power in recent days.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that the missions off the coast are being carried out by a U.S. task force based in the Horn of Africa.

The Al Qaeda militants are believed to have had a role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and in the 2002 bombing of a hotel in Kenya.

Kenya sent extra troops to its border with Somalia on Wednesday to keep Islamic militants from entering the country

McCormack said the administration is planning to provide food aid to Somalia, adding that U.S. officials will take part in a donors conference soon to determine Somalia's needs and how they can be met.

Also planned is a meeting of U.S., European and African countries, along with international institutions, on Friday in Kenya for a discussion of humanitarian and security issues.

McCormack said the United States continues to support the creation of an all-Africa force to help out the transitional government as it seeks to consolidate its authority in Mogadishu. Until the Islamic courts were forced out, the government had been confined to the western town of Baidoa, unable to assert its authority nationwide despite U.N. and United States backing.

The U.S. efforts on the humanitarian and peacekeeping fronts are part of an overall international initiative "to move Somalia out of the category of a failed state," McCormack said.

The spokesman stopped short of an outright endorsement of the Ethiopian attack but said it was apparent that the Islamic Courts had fallen under the control "of those that had links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups."

These groups, he said, were "quite clearly were interested in imposing draconian types of interpretations" of Islamic law on Somalia in contravention of the polices of the transitional government.

Before Ethiopian troops launched their offensive last week, "we certainly would have hoped that there could have been a negotiated, political dialogue," McCormack said.

"But it became apparent over time, and certainly very apparent in the recent weeks, that that wasn't going to happen and that the Islamic courts were intent upon trying to seize control over all of Somalia through use of arms," he said.