By Harun Maruf
The militant group al-Shabab has launched attacks on Somali military forces in Lower Shabelle region, Somali regional officials said.
The attacks in the early hours of Saturday, around 4 a.m. local time, targeted military bases in the towns of Barire and Awdhegle in southern Somalia.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The forward operating bases are manned by the Somali military to protect several bridges along the Shabelle river that authorities say are key to keeping vehicles carrying explosives from entering Mogadishu. Attacks started off with suicide car bombs on both bases, followed by infantry attack, regional officials said.
Speaking to VOA’s Somali Service, Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Siidi, the governor of Lower Shabelle region, confirmed the attacks. Siidi said the militants fired mortars on the nearby villages of Sabiid and Anole. More mortar attacks were reported in the vicinity of Jannaale town. In recent years, the Somali National Army, in joint operations with forces of the regional peacekeeping mission, the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM has recaptured these villages that were previously under the control of Al-Shabaab militants.
The Saturday mortar attacks may have been an effort to disrupt possible reinforcements for government forces, Somali officials said.
Government forces appear to have repulsed attack on Awdhegle and defended a key bridge used by civilians and the military, but there was heavy fighting in Barire town, the officials added.
Al-Shabab claimed to have “overrun” the Barire military base. A regional official, who did not want to be named because he was not allowed to speak to the media, said Barire bore the brunt of the attack. Two officials said the militants entered Barire military base without providing further details. The militants have now been pushed out of Barire, an official said.
Awdhegle and Barire are located 75 kilometers and 60 kilometers southwest of Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu, respectively.
State controlled national television has reported that government forces have “foiled” al-Shabab attacks on Awdhegle and Barire. Heavy losses have been inflicted on the militants, according to broadcasts on state TV.
Somali Army chief Brigadier General Odawaa Yusuf Rageh said “Somali Army killed dozens of terrorist militants including leaders after Shabab attacked SNA [Somali National Army] bases in Awdhegle and Barire in Lower Shabelle region,” on a Twitter post through the state-owned media, Somali National Television.
The commander of Somalia’s infantry forces, General Mohamed Tahlil Bihi, told The Associated Press that nine Somali soldiers had been killed and 11 injured.
Bihi said Somali forces had killed 76 of the al-Shabab militants and had captured 10 others.
Al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Musab maintained the group had killed 47 Somali government fighters and confirmed on the group’s Andalus radio station that the attacks began with suicide car bombs.
Barire was recaptured from al-Shabab in May 2019, while government forces retook Awdhegle three months later. The capture and holding of the towns was hailed as a test for Somali National Army efforts to “seize and hold” areas recovered from the militants. SNA is being rebuilt to have the capacity to overtake security responsibilities from the 22,000 AMISOM peacekeeping forces who have been in the country since March 2007.
In a separate but related incident, a suicide car bomb struck a military convoy travelling on the outskirts of Mogadishu on Saturday morning local time. The convoy was attacked in the vicinity of Lafole, about 20 kilometers from Mogadishu. The convoy was heading towards Awdhegle and Barire to reinforce government forces, officials told VOA’s Somali Service.
Police in Mogadishu said four youths and one child were killed in a second suicide bombing that occurred about 7 p.m. local time at a tea shop in downtown Mogadishu. Young people were having tea when the blast occurred, police said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Government forces also seized a vehicle carrying weapon for the militants in Lafole area, an official said.