FILE - African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops gather for a briefing before embarking on an operation.
FILE - African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops gather for a briefing before embarking on an operation.

The U.S. military has acknowledged having an expanded presence in Somalia, helping African and Somali government forces battle Islamist insurgents.

A spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command told VOA Thursday that a "limited number" of trainers and advisers and a "small military coordination cell" are in Somalia to support African Union peacekeepers and Somali security forces.

Spokesman Benjamin Benson said the total number of personnel is small, adding that they have operated in groups that have moved in and out of multiple locations.

The comments come one day after Reuters news agency, citing an Obama administration official, reported there are up to 120 U.S. military personnel on the ground across Somalia.

That report said U.S. military advisors have secretly operated in Somalia since 2007, around the time Islamist militant group al-Shabab began posing a threat to the government.

The Africa Command first acknowledged the U.S. military presence in Somalia in January.  It said at the time that it had recently established a unit of advisors in the country that included fewer than five military personnel.

The previous time U.S. troops were in Somalia was in early 1994.  That was several months after two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down in late 1993 and 18 Americans were killed.

Members of the parliament and relatives carry the
Members of parliament and relatives carry the body of slain legislator Mohamed Mohamud Hayd who was shot dead in the Hamarweyne district of Mogadishu, July 3, 2014.

African Union and Somali forces have recaptured much of central and?southern Somalia from al-Shabab in the past few years but the militant group continues to launch attacks on government targets.  It killed a member of parliament in Mogadishu Thursday and attacked the presidential palace earlier this year.

Benson stopped short of saying U.S. personnel have not been involved in combat, saying they are "not tasked with engaging enemy forces except in self-defense."

He says the U.S. effort in Somalia is aimed at improving the capabilities of Somali government forces and the African Union mission, known as AMISOM, with the overall goal of having a secure and stable Somalia.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.