Shabaab overruns African Union base in southern Somalia

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Shabaab, Al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, reported today that its forces have overrun an African Union base in the southern Somali town of Al Ade. The attack has reportedly left over 60 Kenyan troops dead.

In a statement released on its Shahada News website and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, the jihadist group said that “fighters from the Shabaab al Mujahideen Movement mounted a broad attack on Friday morning, on a military base of Kenyan forces in the area of ‘Ayl ‘Adi [Al Ade],” which lies 360 miles south of the capital, Mogadishu. Additionally, it said that the operation, which was carried out by its “Saleh al Nabhani Battalion,” began with a suicide bombing followed by an assault team breaching the perimeter of the base.

The fighting lasted for more than an hour before leaving “nearly 100 soldiers from the Kenyan forces” died, according to Shabaab. However, the BBC has reported that just over 60 Kenyan troops were killed. Additionally, Kenya has denied that the base was an African Union base, saying it was a “Somali base that was stormed and Kenyan troops counter-attacked,” the BBC reported. The two bases neighbor each other in Al Ade.

In addition to killing over 60 soldiers, the jihadist group also claims to have taken over 30 vehicles and “large quantities of weapons, ammunition, and military gear.” Shabaab ends its statement by saying that “this attack on the ‘Ayl ‘Adi base is considered the largest attack incurred by the Kenyan forces since their entry into Somalia.”

The “Saleh al Nabhani Batalion” is named after the senior Al Qaeda East Africa operative of the same name. Al Nabhani was wanted by the FBI for his involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania before being killed by US forces in Somalia in 2009. The Kenyan jihadist was also wanted for his involvement in a 2002 attack on an Israeli hotel and airliner in Mombasa.

Another battalion of Shabaab, the “Sheikh Abu Zubayr Battalion”, which is named after the Shabaab leader who was killed by a US drone strike in 2014, has been responsible for several attacks in Somalia over the past year. Last June, the jihadist group said the battalion killed more than 60 Ethiopian troops. Shabaab released photographs which appeared to back up that claim. In late June, the battalion assaulted an African Union base in the southern Somalian town of Leego and reportedly killed more than 50 Burundian troops stationed there.

Shabaab has been able to mount attacks in the region despite the presence of a large African Union mission in Somalia. The jihadist group has also launched numerous suicide assaults on heavily guarded hotels in Mogadishu this year. It has also continuously targeted African Union troops in southern Somalia and has taken back some territory in the process. The jihadist group has also been able to mount attacks in the central part of Somalia and into neighboring Kenya, as well. In late November, Shabaab said its forces temporarily took control over a Kenyan town bordering Somalia.

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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