The attack on the Westgate mall in Kenya last month by al-Qaeda-affiliated militants has underscored the need for enhancing U.S. engagement with the African continent, said senior American officials in an online press conference.

“It highlighted to us that we were pursuing the right strategy and proved that we had to bolster that strategy,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs of the US State Department.

Thus far, the U.S. has focused on providing training, building military capacity of African countries contributing troops to the African-led Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and providing intelligence to partner nations, according to General David Rodriguez, Commander of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

According to a New York Times report, Gen. Rodriguez told the U.S. Congress that the military was seeking to increase its presence in Africa as its engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq wound down. ““As we reduce the rotational requirement to combat areas, we can use these forces to great effect in Africa,” said Gen. David M. Rodriguez earlier this year.

AFRICOM was set up five years ago and has since provided training, logistics and infrastructure to countries across Africa with the aim of boosting interoperability between American forces and host countries.

With the exception of high profile commando missions, like the simultaneous raids in Somalia and Libya earlier this month, the U.S. military presence in Africa has attracted relatively little international attention.

The U.S. publicly acknowledges only one military and drone base in the tiny coastal country of Djibouti, but drone crashes in Ethiopia and Seychelles, and media reports based on Department of Defence tenders for troop logistics suggest its presence is growing across the continent.

“We have always had an interest in Africa. It is more strategic now,” said Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield to a question, but both officials declined to answer questions on the number of troops, drone bases, or American controlled airports across the continent.

On the question of Kenya’s participation in the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. was studying a AU recommendation to the U.N. Security Council regarding the deferral of the trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and urged Kenya to cooperate with the ICC.

‘The Westgate mall attack has underscored the need for enhancing U.S. engagement’