An African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military base has been attacked in a dawn raid on Tuesday that killed at least 50 of its soldiers from Uganda and Burunidi. The attack now ranks as one of the deadliest yet against AMISOM troops.
So far, more than 100 soldiers including troops from the Somalia national army were unaccounted for after Shebab militants overran the Janale military camp in southern Somalia.
“It is assessed that at least 50 AMISOM troops died,” said a briefing note sent to diplomats by Western military officials and seen by AFP. It said that in total around 100 soldiers were “unaccounted for” after the attack.
Confirmed are 10 Ugandan (UPDF) soldiers and their bodies have already been sent home.
UPDF army spokesperson, Maj. Paddy Akunda warns, “This attack is a game changer, Al-shabaab can only expect an appropriate response from UPDF.”
The militant group, however, said the attack was revenge for the killing of 24 civilians by AMISOM troops in the town of Merka in July.
The number of dead matches that claimed by a Shebab spokesman, although the AMISOM has said it has not yet counted the dead.
“Given the complex nature of the attack, AMISOM is currently verifying the number of casualties and extent of the damage,” said a statement issued more than 12 hours after the assault.
Witnesses said the Shebab took over the camp, looting weapons stores and loading corpses onto trucks. The group has previously gathered the bodies of dead soldiers for use in propaganda videos.
The Shebab group has stepped up hit-and-run raids on remote bases as a tactic to fight the AMISOM forces.
In June, Shebab fighters killed dozens of Burundian soldiers when they overran an AMISOM outpost northwest of Mogadishu. The militants also stage frequent suicide attacks inside the capital.
AMISOM faces a daunting challenge in holding territory seized from the Islamists, who frequently melt away into the bush in the face of conventional offensives and subsequently strike back with guerrilla assaults with the only objective of inflicting maximum casualties.
But the AMISOM force has also made significant gains against the Shebab, pushing them out of several strongholds in the southwest of the country.
– – –
* AFP, CNN and Al Jazeera contributed to this story