At least 30 people were killed Friday when al-Shabab militants stormed an army base, Somali government officials said.
The militants attacked the base in the town of Barire, 47 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, with two suicide car bombs followed by fighters armed with heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and small arms.
Speaking on Somali government radio, General Shegow Ahmed, the commander in charge of the base, said 12 soldiers and at least 18 militants were killed as the sides exchanged fire.
Ahmed said dozens of heavily-armed militants sneaked into Barire by river in wooden boats, then deployed the two car bombs which he said were apparently prepared in the town ahead of the attack.
In a statement aired by Radio Andalus, al-Shabab's mouthpiece in Somalia, the group said its militants overran the base, killed 30 government soldiers and seized 11 vehicles, five of which were "battlewagons" -- pickup trucks with weapons mounted on the back.
General Ahmed denied the claims and said the Somali National Army remains in control of the base.
Another government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the gunbattle lasted about two hours.
“Our troops briefly lost the base but we have managed to go back with force," the official said.
The deputy governor of Lower Shabelle region, Ali Nuur Mohamed, told VOA's Somali service that both sides sustained heavy casualties, but said he wasn't authorized to give exact numbers.
Friday’s attack came hours before the commander of Turkey's armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, arrived in Mogadishu.
The Turkish army will open its largest foreign military base in Mogadishu on Saturday, in a ceremony expected to be attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
More than 200 Turkish military personnel will be stationed at the base, training some 1,500 Somali troops at a time.
The training is a part of an international effort to strengthen the Somali National Army to a point where it can take over security responsibilities from African Union troops currently fighting al-Shabab. The African Union has said it wants to begin withdrawing troops from Somalia next year.
Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab is attempting to overthrow the government and install a strict form of Islamic law throughout Somalia.