updated 6/26/2011 3:53:04 PM ET 2011-06-26T19:53:04

The Pentagon is sending nearly $45 million in military equipment, including four small drones, to Uganda and Burundi to help battle the escalating terrorist threat in Somalia.

The latest aid, laid out in documents obtained by The Associated Press, comes as attacks intensify in Somalia against the al-Qaida-linked terror group al-Shabab, including an airstrike late Thursday that hit a militant convoy, killing a number of foreign fighters, according to officials there.

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No nation immediately took responsibility for the latest airstrike, though U.S. aircraft have attacked militants in Somalia before.

U.S. officials, including incoming Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, have warned that the threat from al-Shabab is growing, and the group is developing stronger ties with the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Panetta told lawmakers earlier this month that as the core al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan undergoes leadership changes, with the killing of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. needs to make sure that the group does not relocate to Somalia.

Image: Roadside bomb blast in Somalia
Farah Abdi Warsameh  /  AP
Somalis carry a wounded civilian who was injured in a roadside bomb blast Tuesday that missed African Union (AU) peacekeepers and struck a civilian transport truck, killing four civilians, in southern Mogadishu, Somalia.

The Pentagon plan is aimed at helping to build the counterterrorism capabilities of Uganda and Burundi, two African Union nations that have sent about 9,000 peacekeeping forces to Somalia. The military aid includes four small, shoulder-launched Raven drones, body armor, night-vision gear, communications and heavy construction equipment, generators and surveillance systems. Training is also provided with the equipment.

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In addition, the Pentagon will send $4.4 million in communications and engineering equipment to Uganda.

A failed state
Somalia has not had a fully functioning government in two decades. The government had controlled just a small slice of the capital Mogadishu, but officials have said that the peacekeeping offensive is enabling them to wrest swaths of territory in the city and in southern Somalia from the insurgents.

The aid is part of a $145.4 million package that Pentagon officials approved and sent to Capitol Hill last week as part of a notification process before the equipment can be delivered.

Up to $350 million in military aid can be distributed this year to support counterterrorism operations in other countries. The Pentagon routinely releases the military aid in three or four installments each year, and the first package approved earlier this year was for about $43 million. So far, none of the assistance this year has gone to Yemen — which has been a top counterterrorism priority for the U.S.

Last year, the Pentagon allocated $155 million for aid to Yemen, and military leaders had proposed as much as $200 million for this year. But U.S. officials have become increasingly alarmed about the violent anti-government protests and unrest rocking the country.

Protesters are demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's powerful sons and other members of his inner circle leave the country, even as Saleh remains in Saudi Arabia receiving treatment for injuries he suffered in an attack on his palace earlier this month.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that aid to Yemen has been interrupted by the chaos there, and once that ebbs the U.S. will consider what next steps to take. But U.S. officials consider AQAP in Yemen one of the most serious and immediate terrorist threats, fueled in part by radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has been linked to a number of terror attacks in the U.S., including the Christmas Day 2009 attempted airliner bombing.

Inside the aid package
The Pentagon aid package also includes funding for a number of other North African countries, including several where there is a continuing terror threat from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The plan includes:

—$22.6 million for Mauritania for a turbo prop aircraft for troop transport and surveillance, and necessary maintenance and training; and $8.1 million for airfield systems and construction and communications equipment to develop a forward operating base in the country.

—$17.7 million for an aircraft for Djibouti, where the U.S. has its only Africa military base.

—$12.1 million for helicopter upgrades and training for Kenya.

—$1 million for Mali for mine detector kits.

Also included in the aid package is $12 million for small boats and communications equipment for Maldives; $12 million for six patrol boats and trailers, body armor and communications equipment for Philippines; $8.4 million for communications equipment and weapons for Bangladesh; $900,000 for biometric data collection devices for Oman; and $850,000 for radar installation services for Malaysia.

There is also about $600,000 in the plan for human rights training in the countries.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Photos: Fleeing Somalia

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  1. Yemeni coast guard ship navigates through Aden Harbor. More than 50,000 people - mostly Somalis - made the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden in smuggling boats to reach Yemen in 2008, according to the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR. At least 590 people drowned and another 359 were reported missing. The Yemeni coast guard is overwhelmed and underequipped to deal with Somali smugglers of refugees and illegal goods, as well as pirates along the long coast line. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A boat of newly arrived refugees reaches the Yemeni shore after being rescued by local fishermen while crossing the Gulf of Aden on Dec. 1, 2008. The man in the foreground was not as fortunate, he drowned after being thrown into the sea by ruthless smugglers the night before. Despite the risky journey, the number of Somali refugees arriving in Yemen in 2008 increased by 70 percent over 2007, according to the UNHCR. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A newly arrived refugee hydrates himself near the Yemeni town of Ahwar after crossing the Gulf of Aden on Dec. 1, 2008. The refugees, mostly from Somalia, risk their lives in the dangerous trip across the Gulf of Aden in order to flee war and extreme poverty at home. The refugees are given first aid, food, water and a complete medical examination by Doctors Without Borders when they reach the Yemeni shore. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Local fishermen rescue refugees clinging to a reef after crossing the Gulf of Aden and arriving near the town of Afwar, on the Yemeni coast. Despite the perilous gulf crossing, more Somalis are being driven to flee the chaos in their own country. Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991 and years of fighting between rival warlords has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fadua Ibrahim Haj Mohamed walks along the Yemeni beach she just reached after fleeing Ethiopia in search of her older sister on Dec. 1, 2008. She carried Riyadh Mukhter Sutlan, the 17-month-old son of her missing sister. After a lengthy and fearful search, the sisters were later reunited. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Yemen offers a favorable legal environment for Somalis - they are automatically recognized as refugees on the basis of a "prima facie" or "at first view" policy and have the right to work and move freely around the country. Still, Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and there is little economic opportunity for the new arrivals. After being given food, water and dry clothing, refugees cross dunes to go to a UNHCR refugee center near the Yemeni town of Ahwar. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Women who just landed on Yemen's shores are transported to a refugee center near the village of Bir Ali at the end of November 2008. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A refugee tries to regain his strength by eating a fortified biscuit at a UNHCR refugee center a day after suriving the dangerous sea crossing from Somalia. The UNHCR estimates that approximately 100,000 Somalis currently live in Yemen. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A nurse dispenses medicine to a newly arrived Somali refugee in Maifa, Yemen on Nov. 26, 2008. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A Somali refugee recuperates from her dangerous journey by hanging wet clothing out to dry at a refugee center on the Yemeni coast. By the end of April 2009, nearly 400 boats and 20,000 people had already arrived in Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden, according to the UNHCR. And at least 131 people died while making the desperate journey. (Jiro Ose / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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