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African leaders: Al-Shabaab operation 'historic opportunity' for security

Kenyan security forces search for two missing aid workers at a village near near Liboi, Kenya's border town with Somalia on October 15.

Story highlights

  • The presidents are confident the operation against Al-Shabaab will restore security
  • Kenyan troops entered southern Somalia in October
  • Al-Shabaab is linked to al Qaeda and considered a terrorist group by the U.S.

The leaders of Kenya, Somalia and Uganda held a closed-door meeting in Nairobi Wednesday, reaffirming their commitment to military operations against the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Presidents Mwai Kibaki, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and Yoweri Museveni met for several hours in the Kenyan capital at State House, Kibaki's official residence.

In a joint communique after the meeting, the leaders "expressed confidence that the joint Kenya-Somali operation presents the region with a historic opportunity to restore stability and security in Somalia," Kenya's foreign minister said.

Kenyan forces entered Somalia in October after a rash of kidnappings Kenyan authorities blamed on Al-Shabaab, which has ties to al Qaeda and is considered a terrorist group by the United States.

Kenyan officials say the kidnappings threatened security and constituted an attack on Kenyan sovereignty. Kenyan forces are ultimately seeking to take the Somali port city of Kismayo, described by the United Nations as a key stronghold and source of cash for Al-Shabaab.

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But after more than a month, Kenya's operation has seen little direct conflict with Al-Shabaab, and has been beset with logistical delays. However, military officials remain confident they will be able to disable the group in southern Somalia.

Last month, Ahmed had questioned the wisdom of a Kenyan military incursion into Somali territory, but he has since said that he supports the operation.

The African Union-backed AMISOM force, meanwhile, is trying to consolidate power for Somalia's weak transitional federal government in Mogadishu, where Al-Shabaab is especially active in its battle against that government.

Uganda is the largest contributor of forces to AMISOM, and the three presidents called on other African countries that have pledged troops, but have yet to act, to "urgently fulfill their pledges." Most security analysts believe that more troops are needed for AMISOM to expand its reach of control.

While not much of substance was made public from the presidents' meeting, it was symbolically significant, with the three leaders standing together next to their flags in a show of unity.