Mohamed Olad Hassan
Somali military officials said Saturday that upwards of 70 al-Qaida-affiliated fighters were killed as they tried to overrun a government military base and in a subsequent airstrike near Somalia’s southern port city of Kismayo.
The militants first launched a surprise dawn attack Saturday at the base near Bula Gudud village 50 kilometers north of Kismayo, starting with triple suicide blasts. Dozens of heavily armed militants then stormed the base from all directions, military officials told VOA.
“The terrorists have attacked the base with suicide blasts and fierce fighting occurred. We defeated them and forced them to flee, killing at least 70 militants during the attack and an airstrike that followed,” Abdinur Ibrahim, regional security spokesman, told VOA.
The armed group claimed responsibility for the military base attack and said 41 Somali soldiers were killed in the incident.
“Our fighters started the attack by detonating a huge car bomb inside the base and then the suicide infantry followed to eliminate the soldiers who survived from the blast. Forty-one soldiers from the apostate government were killed,” the pro-al-Shababwebsite
Medical sources at the Kismayo hospital said the bodies of eight Somali soldiers and 19 others who were injured were brought to the hospital.
Multiple military sources familiar with the attack told VOA militants outnumbered government soldiers in the base and briefly took it over, seizing some weapons and military supplies before military reinforcements countered the offensive.
About an hour after the militants left the base, an airstrike carried out by unidentified foreign forces supporting the Somali military killed more than 60 militants. At least two missiles hit the militants driving away in a military truck and two Toyota pickup truck they seized from the base, officials said.
“On their way back, after the defeat in the battle for the military base, an airstrike hit the militants, killing all those in three vehicles, estimated to have been more than 60,” a Somali military official familiar with the airstrike told VOA on the condition of anonymity.
Both the militants’ claim and that of the Somali military could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area. But to support their claim, the Jubbaland regional administration has released graphic photos showing completely burned military transport vehicles and body parts that were strewn on and around it.
The security officials declined to comment on whether or not the strike was carried out by theU.S.military, which recently increased its periodicairstrikes in Somalia tohelpthe U.N.-backed government in its fight against al-Shabab and Islamic State.
Last June, a U.S. soldier was killed and four other soldiers were wounded in a firefight against al-Shabab militants near the same base attacked Saturday by the militants.
Alexander Conrad, 26, of Chandler, Arizona, and his wounded fellow soldiers were fighting alongside about 800 troops from the Somali National Security Forces and Kenyan Defense Forces when they were hit with mortars and small arms fire.
Saturday’s militant attack comes days after al-Shabab struck a Nairobi hotel and killed at least 21 people, including an American citizen.
Kenya has militarypersonnel in the southern part of Somalia where they are fighting terroristsunderthe African Union’s Mission.
Khadar Hared contributed this report from Nairobi~VOA