African Union officials say Ethiopia may join an alliance battling al-Shabab militants in Somalia, a move that could create a new front against the al-Qaida-linked group.
Ethiopian officials say no final decision has been made on joining a coordinated military campaign aimed at finally stamping out al-Shabab. But foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti says Ethiopia will be a part of the process.
Dina says a decision on Ethiopia's participation will likely be announced next Friday, after a meeting of a six-nation regional block known as IGAD .
Ethiopian troops are widely unpopular in Somalia, where many came to view them as brutal during an incursion that lasted from 2006 to 2009.
During next week's meeting, East African leaders will discuss ways to help Somalia's fragile transitional government take back large sections of central and southern Somalia under al-Shabab control.
The Somali government, with the support of African Union troops, drove out the Islamist extremists from the capital, Mogadishu this year.
In October, the Kenyan military crossed into southern Somalia to pursue al-Shabab insurgents, after accusing them of kidnapping foreigners on Kenyan soil.
The recent gains have raised hopes the Somali-based insurgents will be finished off, and that Somalia can regain stability.
Somalia has endured 20 years of conflict and lawlessness since the collapse of the last stable government in 1991.
The Ethiopian troops were sent to bolster the country's weak transitional government against Islamist militants. But they were withdrawn after fighting many battles with al-Shabab, which used their presence as a recruiting tool.
Ethiopia's foreign minister says conditions today are different because Ethiopia is part of a broad alliance that views al-Shabab as a regional threat.