NAIROBI - Calling Somalia "the new front for Al Qaeda and extremists groups," Prime Minister Omar Shamarke warns that without more support from the international community, the country's fragile government may fall to an increasingly radicalized insurgency.
In an interview with ABC News, Prime Minister Shamarke says the ongoing violence in the war-torn country has taken a decidedly international turn. A large in flow of Al Qaeda-backed foreign fighters coming into Somalia has made the country "uncontrollable," says the Prime Minister. He says his moderate Islamist government, which has been in power for less than six months, needs international help to make it a fair fight.
"We don't have an edge in terms of capability and that's why we have requested this international emergency help to salvage the country," says Shamarke. "We cannot prevail on these extremist groups when they have Ak-47s, and other weapons and we only have Ak-47s."
In a memo obtained by ABC News dated in May, U.S. officials requested an exemption to the arms embargo Somalia has been subject to for the last 17 years. The memo requests permission to ship 19 tons of ammunition including small arms, RPGs and mortars directly to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government forces. It states, "In light of the on-going fighting in Mogadishu, this emergency support is needed to ensure the continued war fighting capacity of the NSF [National Security Force] and the survival of the TFG."
The Somali government claims there are thousands of foreign fighters in the country coming primarily from Pakistan and Yemen to fund and fight along side al Shabaab, the country's primary insurgent group. African Union officials working with the mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, have also said they think the number of foreign fighters within Somalia could be in thousands, but U.S. officials believe the number to be smaller.
Despite differences in opinion of the exact number of extremists present, the Somali government and the United States are in agreement over their concern that this government may fall to al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups, who now control the majority of the country.
U.S. State Department
"We do not want to see Somalia become a safe haven for foreign terrorists," a Senior State Department official told reporters. "And we believe that one of the best ways to prevent that is to help the TFG establish itself as a strong, legitimate government."
But Somalia has not had a functioning government in nearly 20 years. The country has no system of justice, no infrastructure and no established rule of law. The government forces have had little to no training and there are reports that in the past troops have sold weapons and supplies to insurgent groups.
Prime Minister Shamarke does not dispute those reports, but says al-Shabaab is exploiting them for it's own agenda. "They know when people here that most of our weapons have fallen into the hands of these people, people will say don't give weapons to the government. And that's actually the objective, to create some sort of suspicion or distrust with the people who want to assist us," he says.
The fighting between government forces and insurgent groups has intensified since May, with the insurgent groups launching an offensive and the government countering, causing a humanitarian disaster. More than 200,000 Somalis have fled Mogadishu in just two months according to the UN's refugee agency.
Reports of young men roaming the streets with clubs, machetes and guns as well as mortar fire targeting civilian areas deemed friendly to the government have forced families to flee, sometimes relocating more than once.
"These are areas that in the last 19 years people never flee. 125,000 in a matter of 2,3,4,5 days," said Shamarke. "That's unheard of, even in the worst times of Somalia."
Those that stay must live by al-Shabaab's rules, a strict interpretation of sharia Islamic law. Last month four young men reportedly had their hands and feet cut off as punishment for stealing cell phones.
The group has pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda numerous times. An Osama bin Laden audio tape released last spring entitled "Fight on, champions of Somalia" called for al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups to overthrow the current government.
The Prime Minister says he believes that would be disastrous, not just for Somalia, but for the entire world. "It would turn the country into a safe haven where people could actually organize attacks in the EU, in the United Stations, in Asian Countries in African countries," he said. "I think the consequences are unimaginable."