Ethiopia is considering integrating its troops in Somalia into the bigger UN-backed African Union force amid efforts to boost operations against Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels, officials said Sunday.
Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in November 2011 to support the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and local government forces, but has resisted integrating its soldiers into the mission.
"We didn't re-hat our forces in the first place because we thought it would stand in the way of our command control, and of course it would stand in the way of our operational freedom," government spokesman Getachew Reda told AFP.
"There is a need for more African forces, and if and when there is a request... we are willing to reconsider our position," he said.
Getachew could not confirm when a decision could be taken, but said the number of Ethiopian troops in Somalia -- in the "hundreds" -- would not likely be increased.
Ethiopia shares a long border with Somalia, and its troops have gained control of key Shebab strongholds in southwestern Somalia, including Baidoa and Beledweyne.
The UN-funded AMISOM mission, which includes Kenyan, Ugandan and Burundian soldiers, has been in Somalia since 2007, and the UN Security Council is expected to soon approve a 4,000-man increase in the force, bringing its number to around 22,000.
Shebab rebels still control large parts of rural southern and central Somalia, while another faction has dug into remote and rugged mountains in the northern, semi-autonomous Puntland region.
Somalia has been ravaged by almost uninterrupted conflict since 1991. A new Western-backed government took power last year, officially ending eight years of transitional rule and raising hopes of a more effective and less corrupt administration.