According to a new report by Reuters, the U.S. has maintained a secret military presence in Somalia since 2007, deploying up to 120 troops to aid the country as it combats extremist Muslim group al Shabaab. Per Obama administration officials, American military in Somalia are there in advisory roles.

From Reuters:

An Obama administration official told Reuters there were currently up to 120 U.S. military personnel on the ground throughout Somalia and described them as trainers and advisors.

"They're not involved in combat," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that until last year, U.S. military advisors had been working with AMISOM troop contributors, as opposed to Somali forces.

A State Department official told the wire service that the military presence is finally being acknowledged because of shifting ties between the U.S. and Somalia. (The U.S. is set to name its first ambassador to the country since 1993 and the "Black Hawk Down" incident during the Battle of Mogadishu, where 18 Americans died.)

"In the past, our assessment of the security situation in Somalia informed our decision to err on the side of force protection concerns and not divulge their presence," the official told Reuters. "We do not currently believe that acknowledging the U.S. presence will increase the already high threat to our personnel and citizens operating in Somalia."

According to an anonymous U.S. defense official, the U.S. plans to provide more military assistance as the country continues its long-fought battle against al Shabaab, which has been linked to al Qaeda. "What you'll see with this upcoming fiscal year is the beginning of engagement with the [Somali National Army] proper," the official told Reuters.

[Image via AP]