The Obama administration's chief Africa diplomat says the suicide bombings by the Somali militant group al-Shabab earlier this month in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, were a "wake-up call" for the world community about the Islamic radicals. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson is in Kampala for the African Union summit.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson says the July 11 bombings at two Kampala viewing sites for the World Cup finals show al-Shabab's ability to use terror tactics far beyond Somalia, and should yield greater African and world support for the AU's AMISOM peacekeeping force in the troubled Horn-of-Africa country.
The assistant secretary spoke to reporters in a telephone hook-up from Kampala, where he led a high-level U.S. delegation to the AU summit. He said the bombings, which killed nearly 80 people, established al-Shabab as a force to be reckoned with throughout much of Africa.
"If al-Shabab can strike Kampala, it also is a threat to all of Somalia's regional neighbors, from Djibouti and Ethiopia and Kenya all the way down to Tanzania," Carson said. "This is the first time that we have seen Shahab use suicide tactics outside of the south-central area of the country. This constitutes a threat and I think the regional states are genuinely concerned about the capacity of Shabab to do this."
The AU summit endorsed plans by the East African regional economic bloc IGAD to send another 2,000 peacekeeping troops to Somalia, to bolster the contingent of more than 5,000 Burundian and Ugandan soldiers.
The United States has provided logistical support for the AMISOM force and Carson said he hopes al-Shabab's newly-demonstrated terror potential will prompt countries in Africa and beyond to make good on existing pledges of help for AMISOM and the struggling Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.
Carson said there was a heavy focus at the AU summit on the need to reduce civilian casualties attributed to AMISOM in Somalia.
He said helping AMISOM improve its battlefield intelligence capabilities, and providing it with more accurate artillery and other weapons will ease the problem. He also said some civilian deaths can be attributed to the way al-Shahab operates.
"I think that some of the tactics employed by al-Shabab are responsible for some of the civilian casualties that have been reported in the press," added Carson. "Al-Shabab moves in and out of market areas, in and out of civilian residential areas, with the clear intent of using those markets and those residential units where civilians reside, as a place where they can launch their mortars and fire their weapons."
AMISOM has been accused of indiscriminately shelling civilian areas. Carson said he believes there have been no deliberate attacks on civilians, but acknowledged the problem has the potential of turning the Somali population against the AU force.