UNITED NATIONS – Somalia's new prime minister said 8,000 government troops will start waging attacks on Islamist insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists "very, very soon."
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a Somali-American educator, also said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday night that increased U.S. and international support for his government is essential to end Somalia's lawlessness and prevent terrorists from continuing to use the country as a safe haven.
He also warned that nearly 2.5 million Somalis in both Islamist and government-controlled areas are on the verge of starvation and said some have already died. He urged immediate global help to prevent even more deaths than in the 1992 famine when 500,000 people died.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, plunging the country into chaos and anarchy. The weak U.N.- and U.S-backed transitional government, established in 2004, and a poorly resourced African Union peacekeeping force control only a small slice of Mogadishu and haven't been able to push past the firing lines of Islamist insurgents who are set up only a few blocks from the presidential palace.
Last month, al-Shabab and the second major Islamist group, Hizbul Islam, ended a long feud and merged.
Mohamed said his government's policy remains the same to these "enemies of peace."
The government would prefer dialogue and reconciliation and has received "a lot of phone calls" from middle-ranking members of both groups, he said, but if fighting continues it will use force.
Mohamed said there has been progress in reorganizing Somali troops who were recently paid. The 8,000-strong force will include some 1,000 troops who will be returning from training in Uganda soon, he said.
"For the last couple of days, their morale is high, and I hope they effectively face their enemy very, very soon," Mohamed said.
The prime minister stressed, however, that his government can't function without financial support.
While the international community donates "a lot of support" to Somalia, he said, the funds go through the United Nations and the government only has the revenue from the port and the airport, less than $1 million a month.
"We appreciate all their contributions but ... we are appealing to the international community — U.S., European Union, Arab League — to step up to the plate to do more," Mohamed said.
He said the international terrorists are well financed and have "a great network" that sends foreign fighters to Somalia.
"In order to face them effectively, you have to have the same resources they have," Mohamed said. "The more Somalia remains the way she is, definitely that's where international terrorism wants to be."
Mohamed urged the United States to give Somalia the same financial, economic, military and diplomatic support that it gives to Afghanistan saying both countries face the same issues — international terrorism, and weak or no central government.
If NATO-led forces in Afghanistan defeat al-Qaida, he warned, "they're going to go to Somalia, because that's where they can find a place to reorganize, because of lack of central government, effective government."
The mandate of the transitional government runs out in August.