New York - Somalia's prime minister predicted Monday that al-Shabaab extremists will be defeated militarily by the end of the year but he said tackling the root causes that attract young people to the al-Qaeda-linked group will take some time.
Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council that there may be increased attacks during June when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, which al-Shabaab has done in recent years.
But he said the military campaign by Somali and African Union forces has been successful and the Islamic militants now control only 20% of the country.
"We hope that in the coming few months the whole country will be liberated," Sharmake said. "We are really on the verge of defeating them in terms of conventional arms."
He said he looks forward by the end of the year to having all states liberated and stabilisation programs under way in every district to revitalise the economy, establish rule of law, and start educating and providing jobs for young people who now see no other alternative than joining al-Shabaab.
Somalia has been trying to rebuild after establishing its first functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and then turned on each other, plunging the impoverished nation into chaos.
The country's weak government is being supported by AU and Somali troops against the al-Shabaab insurgency.
But despite major setbacks in 2014, al-Shabaab continues to wage a deadly insurgency against Somalia's government and remains a threat in the East African region, carrying out a series of deadly terror attacks in neighbouring Kenya which has troops in the AU force fighting the insurgents in Somalia.
"In coming weeks, we're going to go even more forcefully against al-Shabaab," said Ambassador Maman Sidikou, the AU Commission's special representative for Somalia.
He said the AU force, known as Amisom, needs to be reconfigured to make it more effective against al-Shabaab.
"We need to destroy them because that's the only language they know," Sidikou said.