The State Department said Thursday the United States is providing urgent military aid to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, the TFG, to help it repel what is termed an "onslaught" by Islamist rebels. U.S. officials are also renewing their criticism of alleged Eritrean support for Somali extremists.

The Obama administration, which has given strong political support to the besieged Somali administration, is backing that up with an emergency shipment of weapons and ammunition help prevent a militant takeover of the chronically-unstable African state.

The U.S. arms aid, first reported Thursday by the Washington Post newspaper, was confirmed by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, who said the supplies were being conveyed to the TFG on an urgent basis in response to an appeal by the Mogadishu authorities.

He said the TFG faces an "onslaught" by extremist forces intent on destroying the U.N. sponsored Djibouti peace process for Somalia and spoiling efforts to bring peace and stability to the country through political reconciliation.

"We think that this government, the Transitional Federal government, represents Somalia's best chance for peace stability and reconciliation. This government is the best chance that they've had in the last 18 years," he said. "And in addition to this threat to the government, this kind of violence is causing real suffering for the Somali people and its just prolonging the chaos and preventing the country from getting on stable footings," Kelly added.

The Somali administration issued an urgent plea for international aid including troops last weekend as the heaviest fighting in months engulfed the capital and other regions, killing more than 200 people including the TFG security minister.

The United Nations backed interim administration is opposed by a coalition of several Islamist groups, the most prominent being the al-Shabab militia, which has alleged ties to al-Qaida and is listed by the United States as a terrorist group.

U.S. and Somali officials say foreign militants from several Muslim countries are fighting alongside al-Shabab, and spokesman Kelly reiterated U.S. concern that Eritrea has been helping the rebels.

"We think they are providing material support including financing to some of these extremist groups, most particularly al-Shabab. We've taken these concerns up with the government of Eritrea,: he said. "I want to emphasize that we remain open to trying to improve relations with Eritrea. But this country's support -- Eritrea's support -- for al-Shabab and other extremist groups is a serious obstacle to any improvement that we can make," he stressed.

Kelly offered no details of the military aid being sent to Somalia but insisted it is in accordance with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing arms traffic to Somali combatants.

News reports say it consists of small arms and ammunition being sent in from nearby African countries, which in turn are being reimbursed by the United States.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the early 1990's. Rebels have been making gains since Ethiopian troops, who intervened in 2006, left the country early this year.