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Al-Shabab claims attacks on U.S. base and EU convoy in Somalia

AFP-JIJI

The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S. base in Somalia on Monday, as the European Union confirmed a separate strike against a convoy of Italian advisers.

The militants struck the U.S. base at Baledogle, about 110 km (70 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, with explosives before gunmen opened fire on the compound.

In a statement, al-Shabab said: “In the early hours of Monday morning, an elite unit of soldiers … launched a daring raid on the U.S. military base

“After breaching the perimeters of the heavily fortified base, the Mujahideen (holy fighters) stormed the military complex, engaging the crusaders in an intense firefight.”

The Shabab claimed they had killed dozens in the attack, however, the U.S. Mission to Somalia and a Somali military official said there were no casualties.

“We already had the information about the attackers and simply repelled them before they reached our defense barriers. There was no casualty inflicted on our soldiers or on the U.S. soldiers in the base,” the military official said on condition of anonymity.

Witnesses in the Baledogle area said that a heavy exchange of gunfire after the initial explosion had ended.

“We cannot hear any fighting for some hours now but … the whole area around the base is being patrolled by American military helicopters,” said Abdullahi Osman, a witness.

The U.S. Mission to Somalia denied al-Shabab fighters penetrated the camp’s defenses, saying that Somali security forces repelled the attack.

“The security forces stopped this ultimately failed attack due to their alertness and swift response, not allowing the attackers to breach the outer defensive perimeters of the base,” the mission said in a statement.

“We are thankful that there were no SNA (Somali National Army) casualties between the multiple attacks.”

Baledogle is a major launching site for U.S. drone operations against Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group, which controls large parts of Somalia, and the Islamic State in Somalia outfit.

“Two heavy explosions occurred, the first one bigger than the other. There was also a heavy exchange of gunfire after the blasts but we don’t know about the details,” Mohamed Adan, a Somali elder close to the scene of the attack, told AFP by phone.

In a separate incident on Monday, a security official said EU advisers training the Somali National Army were attacked by a car bomb in Mogadishu.

“There was a car bomb targeting the EU military advisers along the industrial road. A vehicle loaded with explosives was rammed into one of the convoy vehicles,” said Omar Abikar, a Somali security officer.

A statement from the EU Training Mission in Somalia confirmed the convoy had been “hit by an explosion” while returning from the army headquarters.

“No EUTM-S soldiers were injured in the explosion. Two vehicles sustained damage,” read the statement.

The mission offers military advice and provides training to Somalia’s army, still propped up by some 20,000 African peacekeepers as the country recovers from decades of civil war and an Islamist insurgency.

Italy’s defense ministry confirmed that two armored vehicles in an Italian convoy “were involved in an explosion,” adding that so far “there have been no consequences for Italian soldiers.

SITE Intelligence, which monitors jihadi activities worldwide, said al-Shabab had claimed responsibility for both attacks.

The U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM, said in a brief statement emailed to AFP that it was “monitoring the situation. We are working to confirm details on the incident.”

Baledogle is a Soviet-built base that, despite secrecy surrounding U.S. operations in Somalia, has emerged as one of the bases from where they carry out their strikes.

U.S. strikes in Somalia surged in April 2017, after President Donald Trump declared the south of the country an “area of active hostilities.” The rate of airstrikes has risen sharply this year.

In an April statement AFRICOM said it had killed more than 800 people in 110 airstrikes in Somalia since April 2017.

Monday’s attacks are the latest in a long line of bombing and assaults claimed by al-Shabab.

The jihadis were driven out of Mogadishu by government forces backed by 20,000 African Union peacekeepers in 2011. But they still carry out attacks including suicide bombings against government and international targets.

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