Al-Shabab militants have engaged in deadly battles with African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces after launching two bombings outside one of their bases in southwestern Somalia.
Somali police said the gun battle broke out Sunday in the town of Bulomarer, 130 kilometers to the northwest of Mogadishu, after the militants detonated two car bombs that hit two military vehicles belonging to the AU forces and the Somali army near the base.
A large number of al-Shabab militants then began shooting from under the trees, according to a Somali army officer stationed near the AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) base.
“It was a hellish battle,” Major Farah Osman said.
Deputy-Governor of the Lower Shabelle region, where the AU base is situated, said the militants then went on to attack the nearby villages in the area on foot.
“They were repulsed, but all these attacks were to stop reinforcement,” Ali Nur said.
He said the militant attack was launched in retaliation for a raid by AU forces on militant positions the day before.
Osman said the number of casualties was yet unknown as there were conflicting reports.
The Ugandan army said its troops serving in the 22,000-strong African force had killed 22 al-Shabab militants.
The army added that four Ugandan soldiers were killed in the attack. Other sources, however, said that as many as 46 Ugandan troops were killed in the attack.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for al- Shabab militants, Abdiasis Abu Musab, claimed 59 AMISOM troops had been killed in the attack, putting the number of militant fatalities at 14.
Somali government forces have been battling al-Shabab militants since 2006.
The militants controlled Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, when they were driven out of the capital with help from AU troops. A period of relative calm started in Mogadishu afterward.
Al-Shabab militants, however, still retain a significant presence, reportedly roaming freely and posing a threat in regions outside the capital where the central government has little control.
The group launches regular attacks on government, military and civilian targets.