Uganda bombings reaction

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The World's Jeb Sharp has more reaction to the bombings in Uganda claimed by the Somali insurgent group Al-Shabab. Burundi has also been threatened and is on high alert.

MARCO WERMAN: Well, if Al-Shabab is responsible for the Kampala attacks, as it claims to be, it marks a change in the way the Somali militant group has operated. And countries around East Africa are taking note. Security has been stepped up across the region, as governments consider how to respond to the new threat. The World's Jeb Sharp reports.

JEB SHARP: There are a number of countries Al-Shabab might like to attack. It's fighting Somalia's weak transitional government but it is also targeting countries that back that government. Tiny Burundi may be at the top of the list. Like Uganda it supplies peacekeeping troops to the African Union force in Mogadishu. But there are other targets as well, according to Ken Menkhaus, a political scientist at Davidson College.

KEN MENKHAUS: Shabab has a very strong physical presence in neighboring Kenya and could cause huge disruption there. These kinds ? if terrorist attacks like this become more frequent in East Africa it can be devastating to the national economies. Tourism dries up immediately in these kinds of situations and that would be a nightmare for the region.

SHARP: As a result Kenya and other countries throughout East Africa are on high alert. Nevertheless, Ugandan officials say they will continue to support Somalia's government against Al-Shabab and they have no intention of pulling troops out of Mogadishu. Uganda's Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura says the whole point of being in Somalia is security.

KALE KAIHURA: We must stabilize Somalia. We cannot have a failed state in our neighborhood and we think we are secure. Your security is really tied to the security of your neighbor.

SHARP: That's the logic the United States applies as well. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer today reiterated Washington's support for Somalia's fragile interim government.

MIKE HAMMER: We are working with our partners in the region, including Uganda and other countries, to try to address and support the Somali government as they confront this very difficult circumstance inside Somalia, in terms of the lawlessness and their ability to govern. Combating terrorism is an extremely difficult challenge in areas of the world where it's hard to establish a central government that can control the territory, and that's the case in Somalia. But we need to continue to provide support to that government and then find ways to prevent these attacks from reoccurring.

SHARP: But providing support to the Somali government hasn't yielded much progress so far, according to Ken Menkhaus.

MENKHAUS: The key problem is that we're expecting the Somali people to do something about Shabab. They don't like Shabab, they want to get rid of it but right now Shabab is strong only because it's the only player on the playing field. There's no serious alternative in Somalia that Somalis can turn to with any confidence. The Transitional Federal Government there that we've supported for nearly six years has been utterly ineffective, corrupt, venal.

SHARP: Not only that but when outside countries have tried to train fighters to support that government it's sometimes gone badly according to David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia.

DAVID SHINN: Some of those people have been trained and then have defected, a few of them anyway, with their arms to the Al-Shabab side. So this is a real dilemma. This is not going to be an easy problem to solve.

SHARP: There's also a history of unintended consequences in Somalia. Ken Menkhaus is concerned that could happen again if Uganda or even the United States resorted to knee-jerk retaliation against Al-Shabab.

MENKHAUS: What I worry about the most is a spasm of what the military calls ?kinetic operations,? that is to say, military attacks on Shabab, locations. There would almost certainly be high levels of civilian casualties in that event and that would play right into Shabab's hands. That would galvanize Somali anger at the foreigners who are bringing more death and misery to their country.

SHARP: Whatever the policy response turns out to be, the attacks in Uganda have refocused attention on the threat posed by Al-Shabab, not just in Somalia but across Africa, and potentially here in the United States as well. For The World, I'm Jeb Sharp.