The U.N. Security Council said it backs the speedy deployment of African troops to Somalia and strongly urges a dialogue among all political players, in addition to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, the current council president, told reporters after a closed-door meeting Wednesday that members regard Somalia as "a high priority matter" and are concerned about instability, security and the humanitarian situation.

"They expressed their support for the plan to send a humanitarian assessment mission to the border between Somalia and Kenya and spoke of the importance of adequate humanitarian support for Somalia," he said. "They strongly supported inclusive political dialogue among various political forces in Somalia. They favor speedy deployment of IGASOM," a new force to be set up by the African Union and a seven-nation regional group.

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Ibrahim Gambari , the undersecretary-general for political affairs, told reporters after briefing the council that Nigeria, South Africa and Malawi "are said to be considering sending troops" to Somalia. "We hope that these countries will actually go ahead and commit."

Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million people into chaos.

The rout of the Islamic movement that controlled most of Somalia for the past six months by Somali government troops and Ethiopian soldiers has allowed the country's weak U.N.-backed transitional government to enter the capital, Mogadishu, for the first time since it was established in 2004.

But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern that U.S. airstrikes in southern Somalia — which Washington said was aimed at fleeing Al Qaeda terrorists — could escalate hostilities and harm civilians. Some civilian casualties have been reported.

U.S. deputy ambassador Jackie Sanders confirmed to the council that the United States had conducted an air strike against "a high-level" Al Qaeda leader, noting that Al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

"We have a long memory when it comes to terrorists killing innocent Americans -- and in this case Africans -- and in this case we're going after those folks who were involved," she said.

Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president's chief of staff, said Wednesday that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who allegedly planned the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was killed during a raid on Monday. He cited a U.S. intelligence report that was given to Somali authorities.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Wednesday that despite the Somali government's support for Ethiopian troops and U.S. operations, the secretary-general "still believes that it is in the best interests of all to avoid escalation and go back to a politically negotiated process."

"He reiterates his appeal for all international actors to help Somalia reach stability and peace," she said. "And he is concerned, still, with civilian casualties resulting from recent developments. He believes that all foreign troops should withdraw and peace negotiations resume quickly."

Churkin said the U.S. airstrikes were not raised by any other council members except Sanders.

Gambari said he emphasized the need to speedily organize and deploy a stabilization force and to encourage leaders of Somalia's transitional government to engage with clan elders, members of civil society, especially women's groups, and "positive members" of the routed Union of Islamic Courts.

"Everybody acknowledged that this has provided a historic opportunity for the Somalis to achieve national reconciliation," said China's deputy U.N. ambassador Liu Zhenmin.

On Dec. 6, the Security Council authorized an African force to protect the transitional government against the Islamic Courts. The council also authorized the force to train Somali government troops, and lifted a U.N. arms embargo for the African troops.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said the priorities must be to deploy the African force, implement the resolution, provide humanitarian assistance and financial support for the government and encourage the widest possible political dialogue.

"The U.N. should facilitate that. Who leads on it? I don't care, but the important thing is we should ascertain who's doing it and get on with it," he said.

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