Washington - The US military has sent a small group of military advisers to Somalia in the first overt deployment of US soldiers there since 1993, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The US military personnel have been stationed in Mogadishu since last fall. Their job is to advise African troops fighting al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia whose leaders have professed loyalty to al-Qaeda, the Post said, quoting three US military officials.
Fewer that two dozen troops comprise the unit, whose presence in Somalia reverses two decades of US policy against sending troops to the lawless country.
Ever since two helicopters were shot down and 18 Americans were killed in the failed "Black Hawk Down" operation, the Pentagon has avoided sending troops to Somalia. In recent years however, the Obama administration has cautiously become more directly involved.
The US officially recognized Somalia's new federal government about one year ago. It re-established diplomatic relations with Mogadishu, but the State Department has not re-opened an embassy there.
Al-Shabaab, which controls mainly rural areas in central and southern Somalia, on Wednesday banned the use of the internet for fear of spying and surveillance on its operations.
Internet providers in the Horn of Africa country must sever services on mobile phones and using fibre optic communications within 15 days, al-Shabaab said.
Companies refusing to comply with the ban "would be seen as collaborating with the enemy and necessary steps would be taken against them in compliance with sharia, or Islamic law," the statement said.