The top general from the U.S. military's Africa Command, known as
AFRICOM, said on Friday that the rise of radical Islamist militant
group al-Shabab in Somalia makes East Africa a central focus of the
U.S. military on the continent.
General William Ward has pledged continued support to Somalia's transitional federal government and the African Union forces operating there. He made his remarks during a visit to Nairobi, Kenya, which is a key U.S. ally in region.
The general said that al-Shabab's alleged link to international terrorist group al-Qaida means that the region is a priority for AFRICOM on the continent. The commander thanked Kenya for its ongoing partnership with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
General Ward highlighted the U.S. military's support of the African Union troops in Somalia and said that the United States would continue to offer logistical assistance.
"The work being done by the African Union through its African Mission there, AMISOM, is work we all support," he said. "It's work we will continue to support. We have had roles in helping to train some of those AMISOM forces. We have had roles in helping provide logistical support to the AMISOM forces. And we would certainly look forward to continuing to do that as the number of AMISOM forces continues to rise."
The commander predicted that the "stalemate" in Somalia between the pro-government forces and rebel Islamic militant groups would be broken as the number of AMISOM forces rises.
AMISOM is technically neutral in the conflicts between pro-government forces and the rebel groups but has been accused of fighting with the anti-government militias. AMISOM forces protect key sites in Mogadishu including the airport, the presidential palace, and the seaport.
When asked about U.S. warnings to Eritrea against its alleged support of al-Shabab, the U.S. general condemned any outside support for the Somali rebels.
"Any time a nation or a state is purposely doing things that incite, contribute to instability, insecurity - that is something that none of us would agree with. And we would hope that any legitimate government, any legitimate nation would in fact be doing otherwise," he said.
AFRICOM was created in late 2007 and formally activated a year later. The new command structure oversees military relationships with all African countries except Egypt.
The military command is based in Germany. Reports that AFRICOM headquarters could eventually be based within the African continent have generated controversy and some open hostility from African leaders. Liberia is the only African nation to have publicly announced its willingness to host the U.S. military African Command.
AFRICOM's official website describes its base in Germany as an "interim" headquarters.
General Ward also used the visit to praise Kenya for accepting captured Somali pirates that have plagued the waters off of Africa.
He said AFRICOM's role in the continent is to help friendly African countries build their security capacities through mutual partnerships.