NAIROBI - Somali government troops are ready to launch a major offensive against insurgents and expect to drive them out of the capital by the end of this month, the country's prime minister told Reuters on Sunday.
Talk of an imminent government attack on the rebels has been rife in recent weeks and al Shabaab, the main insurgent group, is reported to have stepped up the forced recruitment of youths into its ranks in readiness for the assault.
Our troops are prepared to act, and flush these terrorists out of the capital before the end of January, and continue taking over the control of more territories from these fighters, said Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke.
Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991. The West's efforts to install one have been undermined most recently by the insurgency led by al Shabaab, which Washington views as al Qaeda's proxy in the region.
Sharmarke said the government's preparations centred on recruiting and training the troops and reforming the command structure.
We could not go to war overnight, but we put most of our efforts into preparing our forces to act, so that the work can yield some results at the end of the day, he said.
U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan and Iraq is piling pressure on al Qaeda groups there, raising Somalia's appeal as a safe haven for the militants, the prime minister said.
REBEL LINKS DANGEROUS
If a parallel strategy with that one in Afghanistan does not confront them in Somalia, we might see a whole terrorist country, he said, adding that al Shabaab's links to rebels in Yemen was no longer a matter of speculation.
Al Shabaab said on Friday it was ready to send reinforcements to Yemen should the U.S. carry out attacks there in retaliation for the attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger aircraft on Christmas Day. The suspect said he had received training and equipment in Yemen.
Their aim is to achieve goals by fighting alongside each other. It is a terror network that has the same ideology. If you defeat them in Yemen, they will come to Somalia and continue destabilising the world, Sharmarke said.
He urged authorities in the West to interrogate Somalis living there who wished to return to Somalia, to stop radicalised elements from coming home to fight with the insurgents or blow themselves up in suicide attacks.
Locals involve themselves in suicide bombings. But there are indications that brainwashed young men from overseas are more willing to blow themselves up than locals, he said.
The last deadly suicide attack in the capital, which killed 22 people including three cabinet ministers, was said to have been carried out by a Somali man who had lived in Denmark for many years.
Sharmarke said pirates operating off the coast of Somalia were growing more sophisticated, despite more patrols by foreign navies, and added the best way of tackling the piracy problem was by tackling poverty among the Somali people.
If the international community sends 10 percent of the resources allocated for warships patrolling waters off Somalia, we could have done more and defeated the pirates on land, he said. Pirates hijacked two ships in the first two days of the year.