U.S. Counter-Terror Role in Somalia Unclear

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday the United States is working with "regional and international partners" to keep Al Qaeda from establishing itself in northeastern Africa, but would not say whether that included warlords in Somalia.

Snow cited Somalia's lack of a functioning government and said Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network uses such chaotic situations to establish terrorist training centers and bases. Somalia is just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen and the Saudi Peninsula.

Two weeks ago, Somalia's transitional president said in Sweden that he believed the United States was bankrolling an alliance of warlords, the same people whose armed gangs are keeping Somalia ungovernable.

Asked Wednesday whether the United States was working with warlords, Snow said he had to speak carefully.

"You've got instability in Somalia right now, and there is concern about the presence of foreign terrorists, particularly Al Qaeda, within Somalia right now," he said.

"In an environment of instability, as we've seen in the past, Al Qaeda may take root, and we want to make sure that Al Qaeda does not in fact establish a beachhead in Somalia."

Snow said the United States "will continue to work with regional and international partners wherever we can to crack down on terrorism and also to try to prevent its rising."

On May 3, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed told The Associated Press in Stockholm, "The Americans should tell the warlords they should support the government and cooperate with the government. ... We are the legitimate government, and we will help you fight terrorism."

Somalia has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.