Al-Shabaab jihadists armed with guns and explosives stormed an African Union base in Somalia on Tuesday, triggering a fierce firefight that killed an unknown number of Burundian peacekeepers.ADVERTISING
A high-ranking Burundian military officer told AFP about 30 soldiers were killed and another 22 wounded, while a dozen were missing.
AU forces sent in helicopter gunships after the pre-dawn attack on a camp housing Burundian troops near Ceel Baraf, a village some 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu, military officials and witnesses said.
“There was heavy fighting and casualties inflicted on both sides,” local military commander Mohamed Ali told AFP by phone. “They launched the attack with a car bomb blast before a heavy exchange of gunfire broke out.”
It was the first such attack on a peacekeeping base since the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) replaced the previous AMISOM peacekeeping force on April 1.
Al-Shabaab, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for more than a decade, claimed responsibility, saying it had taken control of the camp and claimed to have killed 173 soldiers.
It also released a video showing bodies of what appeared to be slain soldiers lying on the ground, according to the SITE Intelligence Group that monitors extremist groups.
The death toll claims and the video could not be independently verified.
Somalia’s government said it “condemns in the strongest possible terms the heinous attack targeting ATMIS” and appealed to the international community to do more to support Somali forces and ATMIS “in effectively combatting terrorism”.
AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Twitter he spoke to Burundi’s President Évariste Ndayishimiye to pay his respects for the “sacrifice” of the peacekeepers who lost their lives.