The Obama administration has decided to bolster efforts to support Somalia's embattled government, U.S. officials say, by providing money for weapons and helping the military in neighboring Djibouti train Somali forces.
The goal is to stem insurgent advances in the Horn of Africa. But the plan would commit the U.S. to a greater embrace of a shaky government atop one of the world's most chaotic states.
An administration review of U.S. policy toward Somalia found an urgent need to supply the Somali government with ammunition and weapons as it struggles to confront increasingly powerful Islamic militants.
Officials said the U.S. would not conduct the training and that the U.S. military would not be in Somalia. The U.S. would provide logistical support for the training, and provide arms to the Somalis.
Several U.S. officials spoke about the emerging plan on condition of anonymity because the details have not yet been finalized.
Alarmed by terrorists' gains in Somalia, the administration decided it needed to do more to support Somalia's transitional federal government, officials said. They said the U.S. has agreed to reimburse other African nations, primarily Uganda, that will transfer small arms and ammunition to Somalia. To date, officials said, only ammunition has been shipped.
Somalia's violent insurgency has spilled over onto U.S. soil, raising the fear that a failed state there could affect U.S. security. Young Somali-American men have disappeared from the Minneapolis region and are believed to have traveled to Somalia to fight with al-Shabab militants. One strapped on explosives last fall in a coordinated attack in Somalia, becoming the first U.S. citizen to act as a suicide bomber.
U.S. counterterrorism officials say it is a disturbing pattern, one that mirrors al-Qaida methods and could spawn homegrown insurgents and suicide bombers in the U.S.
'The Youth' gaining ground
Al-Shabab, a terrorist organization whose name means "the Youth," has been gaining ground as Somalia's Western-backed government crumbles. The group's goal is to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
Somalia's government controls only a few blocks of the capital, comes under regular attack from the militants and depends on thousands of African Union troops to protect important government installations.
Sheik Sharif Sheik Amed, a moderate Islamist, was elected president in January in hopes that he could unite the country's feuding factions, but the violence has continued.
The U.S. meanwhile, has acted to increase its involvement in Africa. A new Africa Command within the Defense Department helps coordinate aid across the continent, with a particular emphasis on the ungoverned territories in the north and east where Islamic extremists are working to gain a foothold.