WASHINGTON — Suicide bombings this month in Kampala by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab militants served as a "wake-up call" about the wider terrorism threat in the region, a US official said Tuesday.
"If the Shebab can strike Kampala, it's also a threat to all of Somalia's regional neighbors, from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, all the way down to Tanzania," said Johnnie Carson, US assistant secretary of state for Africa.
The Shebab, an Islamist extremist group that controls most of central and western Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Uganda's capital on July 11 that killed 76 people gathered to watch the World Cup final.
Carson described the attacks as "a wake-up call," and said that regional states "now recognize that the threat emanating from Somalia is not only about refugees and illegal arms, but also one about terrorism."
An African Union peacekeeping force, made up of 6,000 Burundian and Ugandan soldiers, has been fighting the Shebab and other insurgent groups street to street in Mogadishu since May 2009.
Carson said mounting civilian casualties in recent weeks were mostly due to the tactics employed by the Shebab, but admitted the AU force, known by the acronym AMISOM, could also do more.
"The Shebab moves in and out of market areas, residential areas with the clear intent to use those as a place where they can launch their mortars," he said.
"AMISOM troops exercise caution," but, "there is a recognition that they need to improve the accuracy of its counter-batteries and the level of their intelligence collection," he added.
Carson was speaking to reporters on a conference call from Kampala, where AU leaders agreed Tuesday after a three-day summit to send thousands of extra troops to reinforce the AMISOM contingent in Somalia.
Somalia's hardline Shebab militia are fighting to topple the Western-backed government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, but demonstrated their new regional dimension when they claimed the bombings in Kampala.
They said the attack was to punish Uganda for its contribution to the AMISOM force, which the insurgents accuse of killing civilians in Mogadishu.
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