Nairobi (CNSNews.com) - Kenya and Uganda have joined the small but growing list of African countries willing to publicly associate themselves with the U.S.-led war against Iraq, offering logistical and other support to the allied forces.
The two East African nations will join Ethiopia and Eritrea on Washington's list of "coalition of the willing" nations.
Kenya's decision follows a series of talks last week between Kenyan and British military officers at the town of Nanyuki, home to the largest Kenyan Air Force base.
Kenya's earlier stance was in favor of the military disarmament of Iraq as sanctioned by a new U.N. resolution, but Foreign Affairs Minister Kalonzo Musyoka has now confirmed Kenya supports the war underway.
Leaders of the minority Muslim community criticized the decision, saying siding with the U.S. and Britain would leave Kenya vulnerable to future terrorist attacks.
But Kenya has already suffered attacks that targeted the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and an Israeli-owned hotel and passenger airline last year.
Nairobi also has in place an agreement, signed more than two decades ago, granting the U.S. use of port facilities in Mombassa and air force bases in Nairobi and Nanyuki.
The U.S. used those bases during its military intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s.
In Uganda, a cabinet meeting chaired by President Yoweri Museveni endorsed the drive to disarm Iraq by force.
"The cabinet also decided that if the need arises, Uganda will assist in any way possible," Foreign Minister James Wapakhabulo said in a statement.
It noted that some of the terrorism Uganda has faced since the mid-1980s had emanated from neighboring countries "with the active support of Saddam Hussein's government."
The statement described the potential link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as "a serious threat to international peace."
Although details are scarce, the small group of African countries now signed up to the coalition against Iraq is expected to allow use of airspace, make available military bases for use by coalition forces and provide general logistical support in case of a prolonged war and during the post-war reconstruction phase.
They have put themselves at odds with the position of the African Union (A.U.), the continental grouping that says it supports the "peaceful disarmament" of Iraq.
Ethiopia's ambassador to the U.N., Abdul Mejid Hussein, said his government continued to support the A.U. position but decided to support the war effort because of Ethiopia's 100 years of diplomatic friendship with the U.S. and its understanding of the threats posed by terrorists, even within its territory.
Government officials in the capital, Addis Ababa, said there were no plans for Ethiopia to directly contribute troops to the war.
Ethiopia boasts two main air bases, which are near Addis Ababa and at Dire Dawa, 200 miles to the east.
The former is already being used by about 1,000 U.S. Special Forces troops attached to the U.S.-led Anti-Terrorist Mission in the Horn of Africa, headquartered in Djibouti - Ethiopia's tiny neighbor to the northeast that sits strategically on the southern tip of the Red Sea.
The other African country supporting the war also neighbors Djibouti and Ethiopia. Eritrea's foreign ministry office said the small, famine-ravaged nation would not be militarily involved.
Despite the A.U.'s official position, analysts here believe more African countries may have already offered - or be willing to offer - support to the coalition forces. Some reports have already mentioned Rwanda and Angola in this regard.
The possibility of post-war rewards may drive some African countries into backing the effort.
During the Kenyan-British military talks, for instance, it was reported that the future refurbishment of aging Kenyan military equipment was discussed.
According to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, each of the more than 40 countries in the coalition was "contributing in the ways that it deems the most appropriate."
(CNSNews.com Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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