Al-Shabaab militants overrun African Union base camp in Somalia

The army base in Bulo Marer, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu "came under Al-Shabaab attack" [Getty Image]

BULO-MARER, Somalia - Armed with explosives, Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants overrun an African Union military base in Somalia on Friday morning, eyewitnesses said, causing massive destruction of infrastructure and possible deaths, but the number is yet to be confirmed by either AU forces or the government of Somalia.

The militants used a series of explosives to storm the Bulo Marer base which is located about 110 kilometers South of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, which is manned by Uganda People's Defense Forces [UPDF], witnesses said. The group, using its usual media sites, said it "completely overrun the base".

Al-Shabaab claimed to have overrun the base and killed 137 Ugandan soldiers serving under the AU mission in Somalia [ATMIS]. There were no indepenedt sources confirming the claim.

In a tweet, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia [ATMIS] confirmed the deadly attack, noting that the forces are "currently assessing the situation". The peacekeepers did not give the number of casualties from the dawn attack, which comes against the backdrop of sustained operations against the group.

"This morning, ATMIS Forward Operating Bases [FOB] in Bulo Marer came under Al-Shabab attack," the mission troops said in a statement without giving many details. "ATMIS forces are currently assessing the security situation. More information will be issued later."

According to locals, the troops under attack called for reinforcement, and drones "could be heard everywhere". The Ugandan troops man Sector I of ATMIS which covers Mogadishu and her environs and has been operating in the country since 2007 when Al-Shabaab first struck in Somalia.

Friday morning raid is the first serious assault in a military base in as many months and it comes amid reports of "relative stability " within Mogadishu, informed by the recent first phase operation against the militants which left at least 3,000 Al-Shabaab members dead according to the government.

Somalia has also asked for reinforcement of non-ATMIS soldiers as it prepares for the second phase of operations against Al-Shabaab in Jubaland and Southwest. "We need your support to crush these militants and we are almost there," President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said while confirming that the new contingent from Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia will serve for three months only.

Early this month, stakeholders including Troops Contributing Countries agreed on a systematic and strategic drawdown of ATMIS troops in Somalia effective June this year. The peacemakers will facilitate scaling down of the first batch of 2000 soldiers and in coming weeks, another 3000 soldiers will leave.

The attack also comes a few days after the US launched a serious attack against Al-Shabaab in Jilib town, their only known headquarters, injuring Osman Mohamed Abdi, the head of external operations in Al-Shabaab. State media reports that the commander is in a "critical condition".

Also, the US sanctioned five Al-Shabaab commanders on Tuesday, with the Treasury Department also designating 26 operatives and individuals who have allegedly been supporting Al-Shabaab militants. This comes days after Al-Shabaab released a video allegedly of its leader Abu Ubaidah, who insisted that the group has not lost territory.

Recently, the African Union confessed that the war in Somalia has left over 3,500 peacekeepers dead and several injured since they reported to Somalia. The union has used over $200 million for compensation, with a quarter of the money going to injured soldiers, the report notes.

Cases of raids against peacekeepers are common in Somalia, with the worst raid coming in 2016 when the militants attacked the Kenya Defence Forces FOB in El-Adde, killing over 200 soldiers. The attack, which neither Kenya nor AU has ever released a report on, is the worst in history according to security analysts.


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