U.S. Urges Rapid African Peacekeeping Mission to Somalia

The United States on Friday called for the rapid deployment of an African peacekeeping mission to Somalia to prevent a dangerous security vacuum as unrest continued in the Somali capital.

After Somali government forces backed by Ethiopian troops drove an Islamic movement out of the Somali capital earlier this month, U.S., European Union , African and Arab diplomats called for an African peacekeeping force envisioned at 8,000 soldiers.

So far no one on the continent has responded to the call, although Uganda has indicated it is willing to deploy 1,500 peacekeepers as part of a wider mission.

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"Deploying an African stabilization force into Somalia quickly is vitally important to support efforts to achieve stability," U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said in an opinion piece in Kenya's Nation Newspaper.

There have been at least three attacks against government forces and their Ethiopian allies since Tuesday, killing five people, according to eyewitnesses in the capital.

Gunmen in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu , threw a grenade into a hotel late Thursday killing a government soldier, Somali lawmaker Jini Boqor, who saw the incident, told The Associated Press. The hotel is used by Somalia's police chief.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian and U.S. forces were in pursuit of three top Al Qaeda suspects, with a senior U.S. official confirming that none of them was killed in a U.S. airstrike and all were believed to be still in Somalia.

The official said U.S. operations were focused solely on tracking down those involved in international terrorism and not Somali Islamic fundamentalists who had challenged Somalia's internationally recognized government. The official in Kenya was authorized to speak only on condition of anonymity.

In Washington, officials said U.S. special operations forces were in Somalia. Pentagon officials dismissed suggestions they are planning to send large numbers of ground troops.

U.S. and Somali officials said Wednesday a small American team on the ground has been providing military advice to Ethiopian and Somali forces. The officials provided little detail and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday urged the international community to redouble efforts to stabilize Somalia and reiterated his concern that U.S. attacks were harming civilians and could have "unintended consequences."

Ranneberger said in Kenya's Nation Newspaper that there had been only one U.S. airstrike and no civilians had been injured.

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 fundamentalist movement, which had 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 for the first time since it was established in 2004.

Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia on Dec. 24 to attack the Somali Islamic fundamentalist movement. Most of the Islamic militiamen have dispersed, but a few hardcore members have fled south toward the Kenyan border and the Indian Ocean.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused the group of harboring three suspects wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. Navy has moved additional forces into waters off the Somali coast, where it has conducted security missions, monitoring maritime traffic and intercepting and interrogating crew on suspicious ships in international waters.

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