The U.S. will send $45 million to Uganda and Burundi to help defeat the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
News of the aid comes after an airstrike last Thursday struck an al-Shabaab convoy travelling through southern Somalia, killing and wounding terrorist fighters. Though the country behind the airstrike has not been confirmed, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kenya said that a "partner country" carried out the attack.
In the past, U.S. aircraft have conducted targeted killings of al-Shabaab members.
The new U.S. aid package aims to improve the military capabilities of Uganda and Burundi, two major players in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is committed to peacekeeping in Somalia. The country has not had a stable government in over 20 years.
Both Uganda and Burundi pledged in March to send an additional 4,000 troops, to add to the already 8,000 Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM troops in Somalia. So far, the two countries have sent 9,000 troops total into the country.
As part of the U.S. package, Uganda and Burundi will receive military gear, including four small shoulder-launched droves, body armor, night-vision gear, communications and heavy construction equipment, generators and surveillance systems. The U.S. has also pledged to provide training for that equipment.
Djibouti, which houses the U.S.'s only military base in Africa, will receive over $17 million from the aid package. The country is located directly to Somalia's north. Kenya, which has pledged support to Somalia, will receive millions for helicopter upgrades and training.
The allocated aid, approved last week by Pentagon officials, comes as Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is preparing to hold a hearing focusing on al-Shabaab and reports that the group is attempting to join forces with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
In early June, CIA Director Leon Panetta warned of al-Shabaab's growing influence and its ties to the Yemen-based AQAP. A jailbreak in Yemen last Wednesday, during which dozens of AQAP militants escaped, underscored the risk that the al-Qaida franchise could fill a power vacuum in the country.
"Al-Shabaab leaders, who have claimed affiliation with al-Qaida since 2007, are developing ties with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula," Panetta wrote in a Senate hearing statement. Al-Shabaab is "showing an increasing desire to stage international terrorist attacks in addition to their act of violence inside Somalia," the statement continued.
Panetta expressed concern over foreign fighters, including Somalis from the U.S., joining al-Shabaab. On June 9th, the FBI identified a suicide bomber who attacked a checkpoint on May 30th in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as a man from Minnesota.
Rep. King's hearing on al-Shabaab, expected to be held in July, will be the third in a series of hearings on the threat of radicalization from within the American Muslim community in the U.S.