Six German warships are on their way to the Horn of Africa. Their mission is to protect shipping routes and to prevent al-Queda fighters fleeing Afghanistan getting into Somalia to set up new bases there
A haven for Al Queda?
If the United States widens its anti-terror campaign, one of the countries likely to be in the firing line is Somalia.
A first indication of President Bush's determination to extend the campaign to East Africa, American officers recently entered Somalia.
With Al Queda fighters on the run in Afghanistan, they have been on the look-out to prevent them from regrouping in the East African country.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration has not decided what action, if any, it might take in Somalia. "We are working to ensure that Somalia doesn't become a haven for terrorists," he said. But he added: "No decisions on future targets, no recommendations on future targets have gone to the president."
Two frigates, a maintenance ship and support vessels set sail from Wilhelmshafen in the north of Germany for Somalia on Wednesday. On board are 750 sailors.
A further 200 sailors left for the Gulf of Aden on faster ships on Friday, where they will be joined by another frigate.
Some 300 soldiers are expected to move in afterwards to secure a landing point for the marines.
The mission is Germany’s biggest contribution so far to the US-led war effort against terrorism. It is to last between eight months and one year.
War-torn and in pieces
Somalia has been without a central government since the end of Mohammed Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991.
A shaky transitional government controls parts of the capital and pockets of the rest of the country.
Somalia is effectively made up of clan-based fiefdoms ruled by local warlords. It is a country in pieces.
Three of the many rival warlords have called for international military intervention, saying Al Queda and another radical Islamic group, al-Itihad, had bases in the country.
But the transitional government has strongly denied the presence of terrorist cells. And the warlords do not recognise the transitional government.
In an effort to combat terrorism and to prevent US strikes on Somalia, seven African leaders are due to meet in Khartoum on Friday.
They will discuss the possibility that terrorist cells may be organising in the country but will follow their own agenda during the talks.
"We are going to hammer out ways of combating terrorism in the region, but that does not mean we are going to single out Somalia", Dirdeiry Ahmed, charge d’affaires at Sudan’s embassy in Kenya told a news conference.
The seven leaders represent a grouping of African states which seeks to solve regional conflicts in the region. They have held fruitless talks on the conflicts in Somalia and in Sudan for many years.
They will have to come up with convincing evidence to satisfy the US that Somalia does not harbour terrorists and that they will crack down on them if they seek refuge there.