Al-Shabab fighters stormed an African Union military base in the village of El-Baraf in Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region early Tuesday, local officials and security sources say.
Officials told VOA Somali that the militants briefly seized the base before withdrawing from it. State media said Burundian solders at the base repulsed the attack.
“The Federal Government of Somalia condemns in the strongest possible terms the heinous attack targeting the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia forward operating base in Elbaraf, Middle Shabelle,” the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted on its official Facebook page.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the victims of this terrorist attack and their families.”
The Mayor of El-Baraf, Abdullahi Haji Muhumed, said the militants started their attack with two suicide truck bombs. He said the militants then fought their way onto the base.
Al-Shabab claimed the killing of 173 African Union forces. The group also claimed responsibility for capturing AU forces as prisoners-of-war. Both claims could not be independently verified. AU force headquarters and Somali military officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
In an interview with VOA, Muhumed, who was not at the village at the time of the attack, said he was told there were “many deaths” among Burundian forces but could not give an exact figure.
“Fighting like this never happened in this area,” he said. “It was heavy fighting.”
He said two civilians were also killed and more than 10 others injured.
Muhumed confirmed to VOA that al-Shabab militants withdrew from the base. He also reported airstrikes targeting the militants as they left the base but did not say who was responsible for the strikes.
El-Baraf, approximately 150 kilometers north of Mogadishu, is one of the forward operating bases of African Union forces from Burundi.
The incident marked the first major al-Shabab attack on AU forces since the mission changed its name and operational structures last month.
The U.N. Security Council, which authorized the new mission called the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), gives it a mandate to reduce the threat posed by al-Shabab, support the capacity-building of Somali security forces, and conduct a phased handover of security responsibilities to Somalia. The mission has until the end of 2024 to operate in the country.