MOGADISHU, Somalia, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- African Union peacekeepers have exceeded expectations in battling the militant group al-Shabaab in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, analysts say.
The peacekeepers have "performed better than anyone would have dreamed," J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council, a Washington research institution, told The New York Times.
The Times says the African Union has been more effective in pacifying Mogadishu than any other outside force, including 25,000 U.S. troops in the 1990s.
The African Union, with 10,000 soldiers, has taken on a lead role in an expanding international effort to drive out Somalia's al-Shabaab militants.
The United States, Kenya, Ethiopia, France, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti have joined in the intentional effort against al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab, which has grown closer to al-Qaida, has for years brought to Somalia a brutal form of Islam, beheading people and relying on suicide bombers.
The Times said the AU peacekeepers may expand their fighting to Somalia's hinterlands, where al-Shabaab has been blocking aid convoys from reaching starving people.
Discussion has focused on bringing in Kenyan and possibly Ethiopian troops under the AU flag.
The African Union's success in Mogadishu may have played a role in Kenyan and Ethiopian forces' decisions to invade other parts of Somalia in hopes of thinning the ranks of al-Shabaab militants on several fronts and ultimately eliminating them.
But al-Shabaab has been fighting back, and both sides have suffered heavy losses.
AU officials say more than 500 soldiers have been killed in Somalia in the peacekeeping mission. The African Union plans to send thousands of additional men from poverty-stricken sub-Saharan nations into Somalia, where the men can make $1,000 a month as opposed to as little as $50 in their home countries.
The U.S. government has contributed more than $400 million, but some U.S. officials say the mission needs more funding.
"These guys are fighting and dying every day and there's a national interest for us in Somalia," one U.S. official said.