By Mark John
BRUSSELS, May 30 (Reuters) - NATO allies are studying a request from the African Union to provide air transport for its troops in Somalia, an alliance official said on Wednesday.
"We are seeking military advice on how to respond to the request. There is an intention among allies to help," said the official of an AU request he said NATO received in recent days.
The official said he understood the support would be similar to that provided to AU peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region, where NATO planes have since 2005 helped troop reinforcements and rotations.
The NATO official said he understood the AU wanted help "relatively quickly". The request has been passed to the NATO Military Committee made up of national defence chiefs, who will draw up proposals for how NATO could help.
Somalia has been in anarchy since warlords kicked out dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Ethiopian troops are helping the government fight an insurgency but say they will leave when the AU force is at least half its planned strength of 8,000.
At present the AU force is made up of just 1,600 Ugandans. Other African nations have been wary of sending more soldiers, especially after four Ugandan peacekeepers were killed two weeks ago by a roadside bomb targeting their convoy.
NATO's air transport mission in Darfur was launched in July 2005 and was its first operation on a continent previously off limits to the Western military alliance.
It says it has provided air transport to some 24,000 AU peacekeepers and civilian police officers since then, as well as providing training and other logistical support. It is exploring long-term cooperation options with the AU.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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