, NAIROBI, Oct 23 – Newly-trained Somali government forces will soon take on Islamist insurgents entrenched in the capital Mogadishu and across the south of the war-torn country, the Somali premier said on Friday.
Speaking a day after an insurgent attack against the president in Mogadishu sparked clashes that left at least 21 civilians dead, Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke said he was confident the tide was turning.
"We’re very confident that our forces will recapture the town (Mogadishu)," he told reporters in Nairobi after a meeting with UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe.
The western-backed transitional federal administration headed by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed currently controls less than half of Mogadishu’s districts and owes its survival largely to the protection of African Union peacekeepers.
Sharmarke stressed that the government would not be content with recapturing Mogadishu only and would also seek to reassert control over southern Somalia, which has been firmly under insurgent control since last year.
"I can assure you that we are not looking at Mogadishu only," he said.
"Some officers have been trained in Kenya… Forces have been trained and recruited in the south and they are ready… Soon we will challenge the insurgents in those areas," Sharmarke said.
An alliance consisting of the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab group and military leaders close to the radical Hezb al-Islam group in August 2008 conquered Kismayo, a key port and southern Somalia’s largest city.
Much of southern Somalia has since been a stronghold for the Shebab and allied foreign fighters, run under strict Islamic law and a no-go zone for most humanitarian organisations.
Sharmarke claimed that as government forces were beefing up and receiving foreign assistance, the insurgents were getting weaker, as exemplified by the internal fighting that broke out among the rebels in Kismayo this month.
"The Shebab are having lots of problems and they have lost the support of the population," he said. "Tension between them and Hezb al-Islam has caused them to withdraw from many parts of the country."
Fighting between the two insurgent factions erupted afresh in Kismayo on Wednesday after a two-week lull.