WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Kenyan officials have asked the U.S. Defense Department for help in Kenya's month-old operation in Somalia against the al-Shabaab militia.
Administration officials are considering the request, made with the State Department, to provide military surveillance and reconnaissance that would, if granted, represent an expansion of U.S. involvement in restive eastern Africa, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Two-thousand Kenyan troops crossed into southern Somalia last month became bogged down after seasonal rains turned roads into mud, leaving the invading forces well short of key strongholds of the al-Qaida-linked group to the north.
Some U.S. officials have indicated favoring direct support for the Kenyan military operation, the Times said, but the Pentagon said that was unlikely to happen.
Counter-terrorism officials said they want to weaken or eliminate al-Shabaab, a terrorist group that has conducted deadly attacks against U.S. allies in Africa.
Some State Department officials said Somalis could consider Kenyans as foreign occupiers, noting al-Shabaab gained popularity originally after U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 to defeat Islamic militants but retreated three years later.
While Kenyan troops captured several border communities, they have failed to take the strategic town of Afmadow, about 80 miles inside Somalia, or the port of Kismayu, about 100 miles up the Indian Ocean coast, the Times said. If troops secure those targets, Kenya said it hopes to create a military buffer zone to impede the flow of weapons and militants crossing the border. Kenyan officials also say they want to help humanitarian groups working to alleviate famine in southern Somalia.
U.S. officials say Kenya did not discuss its invasion with the Obama administration and that the U.S. military hasn't provided on-the-ground support so far. However, the United States has given Kenya more than $700 million in aid, much of it for military and counter-terrorism purposes, and provided limited intelligence help, U.S. officials told the Times.
"Al-Shabaab is a very serious terrorist threat … and pressure that's brought to bear against them is something they deserve," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.