, WASHINGTON, Jun 26 – The United States is giving Somalia’s embattled government urgent supplies of weapons and ammunition to fight off Islamist insurgents, a US official said on Thursday.
The United States has also approached Eritrea with "concerns" that it is aiding the insurgents and warned that such support would be a "serious obstacle" to better ties, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly added.
"We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Mogadishu and attacks against the Transitional Federal Government," Kelly told reporters during the daily media briefing.
"At the request of that government, the State Department has helped to provide weapons and ammunition on an urgent basis," Kelly added.
"This is to support the Transitional Federal Government’s efforts to repel the onslaught of extremist forces which are intent on destroying the Djibouti peace process," he said.
On May 7, the Shabaab, a hardline Islamist armed group, and Hezb al-Islam, a more political group, launched an unprecedented nationwide offensive against the administration of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The internationally-backed Sharif has been holed up in his presidential quarters, protected by African Union peacekeepers as his forces were unable to reassert their authority on the capital.
Around 300 people are confirmed to have been killed in the latest violence, many of them civilians.
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled their homes over the past three years of violence involving hardline Islamist movements and many more in total over the country’s 18 years of almost uninterrupted civil chaos.
The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday that fierce fighting between forces loyal to Somalia’s government and the insurgency have displaced 159,000 people in six weeks.
"We think that this government… represents Somalia’s best chance for peace, stability and reconciliation," Kelly replied when asked if Washington feared the government would collapse.
"This government is the best chance they’ve had in the last 18 years," he said.
"And in addition to this threat to the government … this kind of violence is causing real suffering for the Somalian people and it’s just prolonging the chaos and preventing the country from getting on stable footing," he said.
"So, yes, we are concerned," he said.
He said the US weapons deliveries flowed not just from a request from the Somali government but from a policy review conducted by President Barack Obama’s new administration.
Kelly said he was not aware of any immediate plans to send Johnnie Carson, the State Department’s top Africa envoy, to Eritrea, a neighbour of Somalia which Washington suspects of backing the insurgents.
"We think they (the Eritreans) are providing material support, including financing to some of these extremist groups, most particularly Al Shabab," the spokesman said.
"We’ve taken these concerns up with the government of Eritrea," he added.
"I want to emphasize that we remain open to trying to improve relations with Eritrea, but … Eritrea’s support for Al Shabaab and other extremist groups is a serious obstacle to any improvement that we can make," he said.