NAIROBI - Somali soldiers repelled an attack by al-Shabab militants on a military base in the Lower Juba region Monday, though the militants temporarily seized a section of the camp, according to the government.
"Al-Shabab took control of a section of the camp," said Acting Information Minister Adan Isaac Ali, who spoke on government-owned television. "We sent more troops from the surrounding areas to support others in the camp, and they were successful in repulsing the al-Shabab attack.
"We have lost six fighters … our forces were successful in defeating al-Shabab in this operation, and we have killed 87 militants."
Somali military officials said the militants first attacked the camp with two vehicles full of explosives, then followed with gunfire. The officials say the first explosion killed five soldiers.
Al-Shabab spokesman Abdiaziz Abu Mus'ab said the militants overran the camp.
"In a fight that did not last long between our fighters and military forces, the government forces abandoned and fled the base after the attack and our fighters took control of the camp. We took all the weapons in the camp. We killed 27 soldiers," Mus'ab said.
In June, al-Shabab attacked the same camp with mortars, killing an American soldier. The U.S. has a small contingent of military personnel in Somalia assisting the army.
Security expert Richard Tuta says al-Shabab will sacrifice everything to attack a military base.
"They are signaling to the military guys, 'Look we have the capacity, and we can come for you,' ... even if its suicidal for them," Tuta said. "Sometimes even after the attack, they end up having more casualties than even the military installations itself, but the fact that they can attack, to them is a score."
Al-Shabab has battled the internationally recognized government for more than a decade in its effort to enforce a strict version of Islam in Somalia.