Posted Thursday, June 9 2016 at 17:52
Al Shabaab fighters attacked an Ethiopian army base in central Somalia on Thursday, in the latest raid targeting foreign soldiers deployed as part of an African Union force in the country.
The Al-Qaeda linked militants attacked the base in Halgan in Hiran region, using a suicide car bomber and gunmen but there were wildly divergent accounts of the death toll.
The Shabaab quickly claimed to have killed 60 Ethiopian soldiers and lost 16 of its own fighters.
Ethiopia’s government said that figure was “an absolute lie” and claimed to have foiled the raid killing 101 militants.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) gave a figure of 110 dead militants and Somalia’s government initially said 120 Shabaab fighters were killed before doubling the figure to 240. In a statement the African Union added that “hundreds” of Shabaab fighters were captured.
Casualty figures from this type of attack in isolated parts of Somalia are impossible to verify independently. The Shabaab generally exaggerates, while Amisom usually downplays losses.
Residents in the area close to Halgan said the attack began when a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber exploded at the entrance to the base, after which shooting erupted between jihadist gunmen and Ethiopian soldiers.
“There was a huge blast and then heavy exchange of gunfire started,” said Osman Adan, a resident living nearby.
The Shabaab launched similar attack a year ago and has since overrun forward operating bases manned by Burundian troops in Lego in June, Ugandan troops in Janale in September and Kenyan troops in El Adde in January.
While the countries contributing soldiers to the peacekeeping effort refuse to confirm casualty numbers, it is believed that scores of Amisom soldiers were killed in each attack.
In the El Adde raid alone more than 140 Kenyan soldiers are believed to have been killed, although the Kenyan government has refused to confirm any numbers.
This is the first such raid on an Ethiopian outpost in Somalia but appears to have been less effective with local officials saying the base and town quickly returned to Ethiopian army and Somalia government control.
“There was a major attack this morning at Halgan… but they were driven back and their bodies are everywhere,” said local official Guhad Abdi Warsame said.
The Shabaab was forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, five years ago but continues to carry out regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in its battle to overthrow the internationally-backed administration.
The group typically intensifies attacks during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, but this year is considered critical, with the Shabaab eager to disrupt an expected change of government leadership due in the coming months.