U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday deployment of an East African stabilization force in Somalia is an urgent need following the rout of Islamic militiamen by Ethiopian forces and troops from the Somali interim government. The United States is committing more than $16 million in new humanitarian aid for Somalia.

With Ethiopia saying it cannot afford a prolonged military presence in Somalia, the United States is urgently pressing for the East African peacekeeping force approved by the United Nations December 6, but stalled in its deployment.

The 8,000-member force from the regional grouping IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) was originally intended to shore up the Baidoa-based transitional Somali government, which a month ago was under siege by the Islamic Courts militia movement.

Ethiopia's military intervention in Somalia changed the strategic equation with the Islamists driven from the capital Mogadishu and in disarray.

But officials here say the United States believes the East African force is still needed to allow the internationally-recognized interim authorities to stabilize the country.

Reading a statement from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the department's senior African affairs official has been sent to the region to try to help bring Somalia a stable government after more than 15 years of chaos.

"As part of our effort to help parties resolve the ongoing political and humanitarian crises in Somalia, I have dispatched Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer to the Horn of Africa region to meet with regional partners and Somali representatives to urge inclusive political dialogue, reconciliation to build a legitimate functioning government that will serve all Somalis and to move forward with the urgent deployment of a regional stabilization force," said McCormick

Frazer began her mission in Addis Ababa Wednesday, meeting there with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose government is the only IGAD country thus far to commit troops for the stabilization force.

She will co-host a meeting in Kenya Friday of key African and European countries making up the international "contact group" on Somalia, and then go on to Djibouti and Yemen.

Spokesman McCormack said the assistant secretary had no plans to visit Mogadishu, but said a contact group delegation could be sent there.

He said talk of the United States setting up a diplomatic presence in the Somali capital, now controlled by the transitional authorities, is "very premature."

There has been no U.S. embassy in Somalia since the country descended into civil conflict in 1991 and U.S. diplomats in Nairobi have been responsible for Somali affairs.

Secretary Rice, in her statement, said the United States is committing more than $16 million in new humanitarian aid to Somalia, mainly food assistance to be administered by the U.N.'s World Food Program.

She urged other potential donor countries to join in providing capacity-building help to the transitional authorities as well as humanitarian aid.

She also called on Somalia's neighbors to accept legitimate refugees from the fighting, but to secure their borders against what she termed "dangerous elements" seeking to further destabilize the region.

U.S. officials believe the Islamic Courts movement had sheltered local members of the al-Qaida terrorist organization responsible for, among other things, the 1998 truck bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

U.S. naval vessels are patrolling the Somali coast to try to prevent terrorist suspects from escaping by sea.