More than 20 people were killed Wednesday in fighting between government soldiers and Islamist insurgents in central Somalia, witnesses and officials said.
Al-Shabab fighters attacked a Somali National Army base in El-Hareri, a village in the Galguduud region, before dawn. The commander of the base, Colonel Ahmed Mohamed, told VOA's Somali service that 18 militants, five government soldiers and a civilian were killed during the fighting.
“They attacked our base with hundreds of heavily armed fighters and 10 battle wagons mounted with machine guns,” he said. “We managed to repulse the attack, and our troops then counterattacked.” Each side lost a vehicle in the clash, he said.
Abulle Idow, a resident contacted via telephone, said locals went to the base after the fighting and saw more than 20 dead bodies.
More than 10 militants and two government soldiers were injured in the attack, government officials said.
Radio Andalus, al-Shabab's mouthpiece in Somalia, reported that the militants had initially seized control of the base and killed more a dozen government soldiers, but Mohamed denied that.
“They did not seize the base,” he said. “They attacked us with a large number of militants from different regions of Somalia to inflict us a great loss, but thanks to Allah, they failed.”
Since 2006, al-Shabab has tried to overthrow Somalia's federal government and set up a state based on a strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. The group once controlled most of southern Somalia but was ousted from major cities and towns by the African Union mission in Somalia, AMISOM.
Last Saturday, a suspected al-Shabab suicide bomber attacked a hotel in Mogadishu, killing at least 15 people. Among those killed was Buri Mohamed Hamza, a Somali government minister with Canadian citizenship, and Duale Shahid, a young Somali doctor whose father was killed in a similar hotel attack in Mogadishu in 2009.