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Chaotic Somalia keeps U.S. on terrorism watch

Latest missile strike at the East Africa nation, aimed at a suspected Al Qaeda operative, keeps terrorists off balance. But some say US should do more to nation-build in Somalia.

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In the ruined, chaotic state of Somalia the United States has long been engaged in a shadowy struggle with the forces of militant Islam. This US effort has two main goals: to prevent extremist groups from taking root in Somali society, and to counter notorious terrorist figures thought responsible for attacks throughout North and East Africa.

The US missile strike launched March 3 against the southern Somali town of Dobley was part of this larger fight. Whatever the attack's results – the Defense Department officially is keeping mum – US intelligence officials in recent weeks said they are generally pleased with their progress against terrorism in the region.

But is any such progress coming at the expense of Somalia itself?

Attacks against individual militants may frighten and anger ordinary Somalis, say some analysts, leading to something of a backlash against the US. Meanwhile, the US government in the area might be focusing on antiterrorism policy at the expense of nation-building efforts.

"I am concerned we are not helping the Somalis build even a minimally functional government," says Karin von Hippel, co-director of the post conflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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