Al-Shabab suicide bomber kills at least three Somali troops and injures American military adviser in base attack.
Al-Shabab fighters attacked two military bases belonging to the Somali National Army early on Saturday with dozens reportedly killed and wounded.
The bases, located 100km (60 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu, were struck by two explosions, witnesses said. A third explosion targeted a convoy of troops rushing to the bases from the capital after the attack.
“The assailants tried to attack but thanks to our brave soldiers who knew about the tricks of the assailants, the militants were defeated and their wounded and dead bodies are strewn around, we will provide you the details later,” army chief General Odowa Yusuf Rage told reporters.
Hussein Nur, a military officer, said the army lost “several” soldiers in the attack on Bariire and Awdhigle bases, without giving a precise number.
The army sent in reinforcements from other bases, who killed an unidentified number of attackers in the ensuing fight, he said.
The army was now in control of both bases and the surrounding areas, Nur said, adding, “We are pursuing the militants in the surrounding jungle.”
The armed group claimed it killed dozens and captured military vehicles and supplies.
Al-Shabab said it launched a vehicle-borne suicide-bomb attack on the Bariire base while simultaneously attacking the nearby Awdhigle base with a car bomb and fighters to prevent troops stationed there from reinforcing Bariire.
“We overran Bariire base, burnt three military vehicles and took two vehicles,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s spokesman for military operations, referring to a brief occupation of Bariire.
He confirmed a third vehicle-borne explosive device hit a convoy of government troops racing from Mogadishu with reinforcements.
Witnesses in Awdhigle – home to the larger of the two bases – said Somali troops repelled the fighters after an hour of heavy fighting.
“Shabab gunmen used a vehicle loaded with explosives to launch the attack, but they failed to enter the camp after nearly an hour of exchanging machine gun fire with the Somali troops,” town resident Mohamed Ali said by phone.
“I saw several dead bodies of the Shabab gunmen near the camp where the fighting occurred, the Somali soldiers paraded these bodies after the fighting.”
In Bariire, a car bomb was also detonated before heavily armed gunmen stormed the base.
“We heard a heavy explosion caused by a suicide bomber ramming a car at the entrance to the base and a heavy exchange of gunfire followed,” said resident Abdirahim Malin.
“A few minutes later the militant fighters managed to enter the camp and torched some military supplies belonging to the Somali army.”
General Mohamed Tahlil Bihi, commander of the government’s infantry forces, told The Associated Press “we lost nine of our soldiers and 11 others got wounded from our side”.
“From the Shabab, we killed 60 of their militias on one spot and 17 others near the other base,” he said.
Musab said the group killed 47 government troops.
Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has launched attacks for years and levied tolls on trade in a campaign to introduce strict religious law.
Al-Shabab was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still control swathes of territory from where they launch frequent deadly strikes against government and civilian targets.
There have been fears the armed group would be emboldened by Somalia’s current political crisis as President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is under pressure to step aside. Elections meant for February have been delayed.
Mogadishu on Saturday witnessed the opening of a meeting between federal government leaders, including the president, and the leaders of the five federal member states. They were expected to discuss the way forward.