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Fight Against al-Shabab a Focus of Kerry Trip

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disembarks from plane after arriving in Geneva, Switzerland, March 15, 2015.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disembarks from plane after arriving in Geneva, Switzerland, March 15, 2015.

A senior State Department official says the Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab has been launching “asymmetrical attacks” in neighboring countries because of the success that African and U.S. forces have had against the group in Somalia.

The official commented in a background briefing Thursday, ahead of Secretary of State John Kerry’s upcoming trip to Kenya and Djibouti.

The official said a focal point of the visit will be to explore ways to more effectively deal with threats posed by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab and other militant groups.

“Our message is that fighting terrorism requires a multi-faceted approach. It is not just the security side, but it is also dealing with some of the environmental or the political conditions,” the official said.

Both Kenya and Djibouti have been involved in efforts to fight al-Shabab, and both countries have suffered retaliatory attacks.

Earlier this month, an al-Shabab rampage at Kenya’s Garissa University College left 147 people dead. Last year, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for suicide bombings at a Djibouti restaurant that killed a Turkish national and wounded several Westerners.

The senior State Department official said the U.S. would continue to work with these countries by providing equipment, training and information to help fight threats from militants.

However, a military defeat of al-Shabab would not equate to a total defeat of the group, said Peter Pham, the Africa Center Director at the Atlantic Council.

“The movement has transformed itself from less a territorial entity seeking to control parts of Somalia into a transnational terrorist entity,” said Pham.

The group “has to be fought not just with purely military means but also police, intelligence and also social, economic and political development and inclusion,” he said.

Kerry’s visit to Kenya includes talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta. The two will discuss a broad range of issues, including President Barack Obama’s visit to the country in July for an entrepreneurial summit.

The State Department official said Kerry also plans to discuss South Sudan’s unrest with Kenyan officials.

South Sudan has been plagued by conflict between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those who back rebel leader Riek Machar, Kiir’s former deputy.

“We are extraordinarily disappointed that the two parties have failed to live up to their commitments to end the conflict,” the State Department official said.

While in Africa, Kerry will also visit Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. military hub in Djibouti. The country has also been involved in recent efforts to evacuate third country nationals from Yemen.

Kerry begins his trip in Sri Lanka before traveling to Africa.