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US General Does Not See American Troops In Somalia
By Kristin Roberts
WASHINGTON, Jan 06 2007 – A U.S. general seen by some as a contender to lead the Pentagon's Africa operations said on Friday he does not expect American troops to go into Somalia, where al Qaeda has urged defeated Islamists to start an Iraq-style insurgency.
"Situations change but I do not see it now, and there's nothing that I've heard that implies that at all," said Gen. William Ward, deputy commander of U.S. European Command and a former brigade commander in Somalia.
Ward told reporters in Washington that the State Department was playing the lead role in U.S. efforts in Somalia and that the assistant secretary of state for African affairs was meeting with Ethiopian and Ugandan officials on how the United States might assist Somalia and neighboring countries.
"I don't know the results of all of those discussions yet but I think that those are positive to the degree that the neighbors of Somalia are assisting," he said.
Islamists who controlled much of southern Somalia were ousted by Ethiopian forces defending Somalia's interim government after two weeks of war. Western and African diplomats have called for peacekeepers as an al Qaeda leader on Thursday urged Islamists to start an insurgency against Ethiopian forces.
A U.S. defense official suggested any American assistance to a peacekeeping force might involve logistics support but was unlikely to go beyond that.
Somalia raises dark memories for the U.S. military after the 1993 Mogadishu battle with Somali militias that killed 18 U.S. Army Rangers, an event depicted in the book and film "Black Hawk Down."
"I think we need to be very careful on U.S. involvement, not because we don't want to be helpful but because we have baggage in Somalia and Somalis perceive us as having baggage," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The official noted that the United States had provided some logistical help for the African Union peacekeeping mission in the Darfur region of Sudan -- airlifting troops into the area and providing a contractor to build bases.
"In general, in many of these African operations and elsewhere in the world, our support tends to be focused in the logistics area," the official said. "I would imagine that whatever we might do (in Somalia) would probably be in that area."
Pentagon officials have repeatedly said the U.S. military is not assisting or advising Ethiopian or Somali forces. The U.S. Navy said British-led coalition ships have been parked off the east coast of Africa to "show a presence."
Some defense officials have said Ward would be considered for the position of commander for the Pentagon's planned Africa Command.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray)