WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is providing weapons and ammunition to Somalia's transitional government as it fights al Qaeda-linked Islamic militants, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Thursday.
Somali government soldiers, who are fighting Islamic militants, patrol Mogadishu.
"At the request of that government the State Department has helped to provide weapons and ammunition on an urgent basis," he said.
"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."
Kelly said the weapons shipments are in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, which ban some arms shipments to Somalia.
There is growing concern that Somalia could be the next base for al Qaeda as U.S. forces pound their positions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. CIA Director Leon Panetta recently said that the intelligence agency is keeping tabs on the region as a possible destination for fleeing al Qaeda operatives.
"Our concern right now is that likely safe havens are areas in the Horn of Africa, like Somalia and Yemen, that are countries that because of their political status can be attractive to al Qaeda in order to operate there," Panetta said earlier this month.
"We are focusing on those countries as well in order to ensure that there is no safe haven for al Qaeda as we continue to pressure them, continue to push them, and hopefully continue to make the effort to destroy them, not only in Pakistan but throughout the rest of the world."
Somalia is not new territory for al Qaeda, according to CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.
"Al Qaeda was running training camps in Somalia in the early and mid-1990s," he said. "If this is now coming back, this is something that al Qaeda has already done and it's worrisome for the future. ...
"The fact that we're seeing evidence of this already happening in both Yemen and Somalia suggests that, A, the drone program in the tribal areas of Pakistan has been effective, but, B, you know it's pushing al Qaeda into areas where they'll build up larger operations."
Somalia recently called on its neighbors to send military forces to help government troops stop hard-line Islamist militants from taking over. The call for help came hours after a third top politician was killed this month in ongoing fighting.
The deaths included Mogadishu's police chief and Somalia's internal security minister, who was killed in a suicide car bombing in the central city of Beledweyne.
A Pakistani militant who is a high-ranking official in al Qaeda is leading the fighting in Somalia against the government, said Sheikh Adan Madowe, Somalia's parliament speaker.
Madowe warned that militants will spread fighting into the rest of the region if they topple the government in Somalia.
The United States is concerned that Somalia's weak government could fall to the Islamist insurgency, as it did in 2006 before Ethiopian forces ousted the militants from power later that year.
"We think this government ... represents Somalia's best chance for peace, stability and reconciliation," Kelly said Thursday. "This government is the best chance they've had in the last 18 years."
Somalia's current President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is a former member of the Islamic Courts Union, which took part in the 2006 coup.
His decision to renounce the bloody insurgency and try to establish peace in Somalia has put him at odds with Islamist hard-liners who are still battling for control of Somalia.
Residents and journalists in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, have reported seeing foreign fighters among Al-Shabaab, the radical Islamic militia that is battling to overthrow the weak transitional government. Those foreign fighters recently distributed recorded messages from al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden calling for the overthrow of the government.
Al-Shabaab, also known as the Mujahideen Youth Movement, was officially designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in March 2008. It is waging a war against Somalia's government in an effort to implement a stricter form of Islamic law, or sharia.
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