The US government has provided about 40 tonnes of weapons and ammunition to Somalia’s embattled government in the past six weeks to help it fight Islamist insurgents, a senior US official said on Saturday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States spent less than $10 million on what he described as small arms and ammunition as well as on payments to other nations to train Somali government forces.
While the State Department confirmed on Thursday that it was providing weaponry to the government, it had not previously provided details on the type, cost or amount.
The senior State Department official told reporters the United States began providing the arms soon after Somalia’s al-Shabaab insurgents began a major offensive against the fragile transitional federal government (TFG) in early May.
Al Shabaab, which is seen as a proxy for al Qaeda, controls most of south Somalia and all but a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu. The official said Washington feared that it could destabilise the region and turn Somalia into a safe haven for foreign Islamists and “global terrorists.”
“We’ve shipped probably in the neighbourhood of 40 tonnes worth of arms and munitions into Somalia,” the official said. “We remain concerned about the prospects of an al Shabaab victory, and we want to do as much as we can to help the TFG.”
The United States funded the purchase of arms for the Somali government and also asked the Ugandan and Burundian troops in the country to give the government weapons and then reimbursed them, the official said.
He said the United States also set aside money to pay the Ugandan and Burundian units to train government forces rather than having US troops conduct the training.
When a moderate Islamist was elected president in January, there was hope he could end nearly two decades of bloodshed in Somalia by reconciling with hardliners who want to impose a strict version of Islamic law across the country.
But al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden declared Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed an enemy in an audiotape released in March, calling on the insurgents to topple the government and for Muslims around the world to join their fight.
The US official said he had heard estimates of between 200 and 400 foreign fighters in Somalia but that his personal view was that the figure probably was less than 200.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Musse Abdi Arale, a Member of the Shura (Council) of Hizbu Islam, the Islamist group opposing the TFG, told the local media that the US is responsible for the mayhem in Somalia. He justified his remarks, insisting that the US has always intervened in the internal affairs of Somalia.
“For half a century, the US has been following plans to harm the Somali people,” said Sheikh Musse. He added that the American governments exploited Somalia’s natural resources by employing local stooges.
Sheikh Musse was reacting to news that the US had delivered arms and ammunition to the TFG. “This delivery of arms and ammunition to Somalia is an indication that the US is not interested in the stability of Somalia,” said Sheikh Musse.
Separately, an Al-Shabaab’s top official in Mogadishu, Sheikh Ali Hussein Mohamed, condemned the US action to send weapons to the TFG. He said that a delivery of arms and other assistance only shows that the TFG’s claim to have an Islamic agenda is phoney.
The US has recently announced that it delivered arms, ammunition and other military supplies to Somalia to the tune of 40 tons.