The State Department has hired a major military contractor to help equip and provide logistical support to international peacekeepers in Somalia, giving the United States a significant role in the critical mission without assigning combat forces.
DynCorp International (nyse: NCP - news - people ), which also has U.S. contracts in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, will be paid $10 million to help the first peacekeeping mission in Somalia in more than 10 years.
It's a potentially dangerous assignment. When the first 1,500 Ugandans peacekeepers arrived in Somalia's capital Tuesday, they were greeted with a mortar attack and a major firefight. And on Wednesday, attackers ambushed the peacekeepers in Mogadishu, setting off another gunfight.
The support for the Ugandans is part of a larger goal to improve African forces across the continent and promote peace and stability in a region that's often lawless and a haven for terrorists, including some tied to al-Qaida. The U.S. has also begun to depend more on African nations for oil and minerals, and wants to expand its influence.
The State Department has committed $14 million for the African Union peacekeeping mission to Somalia and has asked Congress for $40 million more. DynCorp's work force includes many former U.S. troops who frequently work in hostile areas.
The Virginia-based firm had been contracted until April to help with the "moving of supplies and people" engaged in the Somalia mission, including supplying tents, vehicles and generators, said DynCorp spokesman Greg Lagana.
"We have an overall contract for African peacekeeping, this is a specific task order for Somalia," he said. "But we are also present in Liberia and southern Sudan."
The Somalia contract allocates $8 million for equipment and $2 million for transportation, according to a the State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized as a media spokesman.
DynCorp, whose services range from equipment maintenance to paramilitary security forces to training police, provided logistics for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia from 1992-95. It was not immediately clear if DynCorp employees would work inside Somalia under the new contract, signed three weeks ago.
Other company operations in Africa include a program to disarm and rehabilitate former soldiers in Liberia, while advising the government on the reconstitution of the army. The company also supports peacekeepers in southern Sudan, and is working with the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia to help the African Union create a standby military force to respond to emergencies, according to the company Web site.
DynCorp, with annual revenues of over $2 billion, has held an umbrella State Department contract since 2004 for "peacekeeping, capacity enhancement and surveillance efforts" in Africa. The contract is valued at between $20 million $100 million, depending on the number of assignments.
The company is on standby to provide services anywhere on the continent to include "support of peacekeeping missions by training specific countries' armed services to enhance their ability to deploy through air and sea, provide logistics supports to mission and work with regional organization to prevent and resolve conflict," according to bid documents.
Dyncorp is not the only U.S. security company working in Africa. Northrop Grumman Corp. (nyse: NOC - news - people ) has a similar contract, worth up to $75 million, to support the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, which aims to train 40,000 African peacekeepers over five years.
KBR Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. (nyse: HAL - news - people ), provides services to at least three bases in Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia used by the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
The contracts come at a time when the Pentagon wants to develop closer relationships and provide greater military assistance to Africa.
A small number of U.S. Special Forces troops fought alongside Ethiopian troops in Somalia in December when they drove out a Somali extremist group that the U.S. has linked to al-Qaida, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the mission.
In January, U.S. Special Operations aircraft staged two airstrikes against suspected al-Qaida forces hiding inside Somalia, the official added.
The United States is not the only country seeking to provide private military services in Africa.
In 2005 the Somali government signed a $50 million contract with New York-based TopCat Marine Security to help create a coast guard to protect its coast and shipping from pirates. The State Department blocked TopCat from deploying because of a U.N. arms embargo, Hassan Abshir Farah, Somalia's marine resources minister said.
Farah said his government was now discussing a deal with the Chinese government and Chinese marine security firms.