Al Shabaab fighters attacked a military base housing Ugandan forces of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia on Friday, with a Somali captain saying both sides suffered heavy casualties.
The militants attacked the base belonging to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) in Bulamarer, 130 km (80 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu.
“There was an attack this morning at our base… by elements of al Shabaab but we are waiting for official communication from ATMIS headquarters,” said Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) deputy spokesman Deo Akiiki.
ATMIS has been assisting Somalia’s federal government in its war against the Islamist group. The mission was assessing the security situation, it said on Twitter, without providing details.
Al Shabaab claimed in a statement that it carried out suicide bomb attacks and killed 137 soldiers.
There was no immediate official confirmation of the casualties and the group tends to give figures that differ from those issued by the authorities.
The militants attacked an ATMIS base and an adjacent one belonging to the Somali military, a Somali military captain who gave his name as Abdullahi told Reuters from the Lower Shabelle region.
“That prompted a fierce battle for hours. All groups including al Shabaab suffered heavy casualties,” he said.
Residents of the town said they woke up to the sound of huge explosions and heavy weapons.
“Now we see al Shabaab in the town. We cannot know how many died. We are not hearing any shots from ATMIS and government now,” local resident Rukia Farah said.
Since 2006, the militant group has been fighting to topple the government and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
A government pushback since last year has seen the group’s control erode over vast swathes of land. But it is still capable of launching significant attacks on government, commercial and military targets.