The United States is calling for a negotiated settlement to end fighting in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops have intervened to stop increasingly powerful Islamic militias.
The administration outlined its position on Tuesday as Ethiopian troops joined with forces from Somalia's secular transitional government in an assault on the Islamists, believed by U.S. officials to be harboring al-Qaida jihadists.
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos signaled U.S. backing for Ethiopia by noting that it has had "genuine security concerns" arising from the Islamist gains in Somalia. The United States has been supporting Ethiopia's Christian-led government with counterterrorism assistance.
Gallegos pointed out that the Ethiopian military action came at the request of the Somali government, a weak entity with limited reach despite United Nations and United States support. The country has not had a government with nationwide acceptance or authority since 1991.
Peace efforts by the government and the Council of Islamic Courts, as its rival is formally known, have made little headway in recent months.
"We've instructed our ambassadors in the region to meet with governments to urge them to pressure Somalis to return to the negotiating table. We do not believe this can be resolved on the battlefield," Gallegos said.
A priority U.S. goal in Somalia is the capture of several reputed al-Qaida militants wanted for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and a hotel in Kenya in 2002.
Al-Qaida militants are operating with "great comfort" in Somalia, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer said recently.
The Islamists have caused unease in Washington by expressing interest in establishing a "Greater Somalia" that would include ethnic Somali regions of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, the AP says.
Two weeks ago, the Pentagon recommended a new U.S. military command for Africa, which is seen as having greater strategic importance to the United States since the start of the fight against terrorism.
At present, U.S. military responsibility for Africa has been split among several commands, all based elsewhere.
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