Somalia’s al Shabaab militant group said it rammed a suicide car bomb into an African Union military base, stormed inside and killed 43 Ethiopian soldiers on Thursday. The AU force said it had repulsed an “attempted attack”.
Residents near the base in the central town of Halgan said they heard a huge explosion and heavy exchanges of gunfire shortly before dawn. Shots rang out at least an hour after the initial blast, they said.
However AMISON have countered the claim and in a brief statement said, “There was an attempted attack this morning. They were repulsed. Our troops are in control of the situation.”
Later on AMISON spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Joe Kibet told Reuters by telephone that “AMISOM forces killed 110 al Shabaab and captured a large cache of weapons,” adding that a claim by al Shabaab that it had killed 60 AU soldiers was a “falsehood”.
AMISOM, made up of troops from African nations supporting Somalia’s Western-backed government and army in the fight against the al Qaeda-linked militants, usually says it is up to troop-contributing countries to announce casualties.
In the past, casualty figures cited by al Shabaab have been much higher than official numbers.
“Our fighters stormed the Halgan base of AMISOM,” al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters. He said the group used a suicide car bomb and then militants had exchanged fire with Ethiopian troops.
He said “several” al Shabaab fighters died.
“It was a huge blast. It destroyed the gate and parts of the base,” the spokesman said, adding al Shabaab fighters overran the base and drove out the Ethiopian troops before withdrawing.
Al Shabaab fighters also repelled a counter attack by Djibouti troops deployed from another base in the area, he said.
The group often launches gun and bomb attacks on officials, Somali security forces and AMISOM in a bid to topple the government and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam on Somalia.
In January, Kenyan troops serving with AMISOM suffered heavy losses when al Shabaab made a dawn raid on their camp in El Adde, near the Kenyan border. Al Shabaab said it killed more than 100 soldiers but Kenya gave no exact casualty figure.