The US Africa Command says it has carried out an air strike targeting militants from the al-Shabaab terrorist group.
“In support of the Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia operations against al-Shabaab, US Africa Command conducted an air strike against militants in the vicinity of the Atmis (African Union Transition Mission) forward operating base, Bulo Marer, on May 26,” the US Africa Command said on Saturday.
The air strike destroyed weapons and equipment seized by the militants, it said.
“The command’s initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed,” the statement said.
On Friday, the US State Department said that Washington strongly condemned the attack by al-Shabaab terrorists on the Ugandan peacekeeping forces deployed to the the AU mission in Somalia.
Atmis said on Friday that its military base in the south-west of the country was attacked but that the soldiers were able to destroy the militants’ weapons and force them to retreat.
Al-Shabaab is a jihadist military and political organisation based in Somalia. Linked to al-Qaeda, it wages armed resistance against the Somali government and obstructs UN humanitarian missions in the country.
It was not immediately known how many casualties there were in Friday’s attack when car laden with explosives was driven into the base in Bulo Marer, 120km south-west of the capital Mogadishu, leading to a gunfight, local residents and a Somali military commander told AFP.
Pro-government forces backed by the AU force known as Atmis launched an offensive last August against al-Shabaab, which has been waging an insurgency in the fragile Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.
Atmis said the Bulo Marer camp came under attack at 5am by al-Shabaab militants “using Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) and suicide bombers”.
“Reinforcements from ATMIS’ Aviation Unit and allies managed to destroy weapons in possession of the withdrawing Al-Shabaab militants,” it said in a statement.
The attack targeted Ugandan soldiers stationed in Somalia as part of Atmis, Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces spokesman Felix Kulayigye said in a statement, adding that the military was “cross checking” details.
The 20 000-strong Atmis force has a more offensive remit than its predecessor known as Amisom (African Union Mission to Somalia).
The force is drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, with troops deployed in southern and central Somalia.
Its goal is to hand over security responsibilities to Somalia’s army and police by 2024.
Al-Shabaab claimed via its communication channels that it had overrun the base and that it had inflicted a large number of casualties.
But Somali military commander Mohamed Yerow Hassan said the attackers had been repelled and the “situation is back to normal now.”
“The terrorists were forced to retreat and flee,” Hassan told AFP by telephone.
Al-Shabaab is known to exaggerate claims of battlefield gains in propaganda, while the governments of nations contributing troops to the AU force rarely confirm casualties.
Attacks on army bases in isolated parts of Somalia are difficult to independently verify.
Condemning the attack, the United States underlined its commitment to “Somali and African Union partners” while commending “the bravery and sacrifice” of those on the ground, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
Atmis said that “everything is being done to bring the situation under control”.
Last year, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud launched an “all-out war” on the militants, rallying Somalis to help flush out members of the jihadist group he described as “bedbugs”.
In recent months, the army and militias known as “macawisley” have retaken swathes of territory in the centre of the troubled country in an operation backed by Atmis and US air strikes.
On Monday, the US Africa Command said it had carried out a strike the weekend before in Jilib in Somalia’s south, and that initial assessments indicated no civilians were harmed.
Despite the gains by the pro-government forces, the militants have continued to strike with lethal force against civilian and military targets.
In the deadliest al-Shabaab attack since the offensive was launched, 121 people were killed in October in two car bomb blasts at the education ministry in Mogadishu.
In a report to the UN Security Council in February, UN chief Antonio Guterres said that 2022 was the deadliest year for civilians in Somalia since 2017, largely as a result of Al-Shabaab attacks.
Russia considers lifting sanctions
Meanwhile, Moscow believes that UN sanctions against Somalia should be gradually lifted as they are outdated, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.
“We consider it is important to start gradually lifting the sanctions that were introduced some time ago. They are now hindering the efforts of the Somali Government to stabilize the situation,” Lavrov said at a joint press conference with Somali Foreign Minster Abshir Omar Jama in Moscow.
Somalia regards the coming Russia-Africa summit as an important opportunity to boost its economic and political ties with Moscow, as well as strengthen relations between the whole continent and Russia, Jama said on Friday.
“Our president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is fully supportive of the second Russia-Africa summit to be held in Saint Petersburg next month. Somalia views the forum as critical in consolidating relations between Africa and Russia, but also in boosting our economic and political relations with Russia,” the top Somalian diplomat said.
He also expressed gratitude for Russia’s support in the fight against terrorism in the country.
SPUTNIK and Agence France-Presse