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STUTTGART, Germany — U.S.-contracted flights, working under the NATO banner, ferried some 1,700 Ugandan troops into Mogadishu, Somalia, last week in response to an African Union request for transportation support, alliance officials said in a news release.

The troop movements were made as government officials in the Somali capital are preparing to launch a military offensive to reclaim parts of the city from al-Shabaab — an extremist group with al-Qaida links.

The airlift, which ran from March 5 through March 16, was conducted by the U.S.-contracted DynCorp International. In addition to shuttling troops into Somalia, the airlift also flew 850 Ugandan troops out of Mogadishu, NATO said.

Tensions have been on the rise in Mogadishu as the fragile Somali transitional government has been unable to turn the tide against Islamic extremist groups that seek to seize control of the country and impose a harsh form of Sharia law. And as AU forces dig in for the upcoming fight, a March 10 report by the U.N. Monitoring Group of Somalia raises questions about whether Somalia’s weak security forces and dysfunctional government are capable of achieving any significant gains.

“The military stalemate is less a reflection of opposition strength than of the weakness of the Transitional Federal Government. Despite infusions of foreign training and assistance, government security forces remain ineffective, disorganized and corrupt,” the report stated. “The government owes its survival to the small African Union peace support operation, AMISOM, rather than to its own troops.”

NATO has a standing agreement to provide strategic sealift and airlift support for AU troop-contributing countries that deploy to Somalia. Currently, there are more than 5,000 AU troops operating in there.

There also has been widespread speculation that the U.S. military could become more involved in the conflict, supporting the Somali government by planting military advisers in the country and conducting surgical special operations forces strikes against the extremists. But earlier this month, Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters that there were no plans for the U.S. military to become directly engaged in Somalia.

“The United States does not plan, does not direct, and it does not coordinate the military operations of the (Transitional Federal Government), and we have not and will not be providing direct support for any potential military offensives,” Carson said. “Further, we are not providing nor paying for military advisers for the TFG. There is no desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia.”

So far, U.S. Africa Command’s work in the region has mainly been in the form of providing training to AU peacekeepers, who then deploy to Somalia.

Meanwhile, NATO’s last significant airlift contribution to the AU effort in Somalia was in 2008 when a battalion of Burundian peacekeepers were transported to Mogadishu, according to NATO.

NATO also has five warships operating in the region as part of its counterpiracy mission.

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