Shabaab fighters overran a military base in the seni-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia today and killed dozens of soldiers during the fighting. Fighters from al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa have successfully overrun Somali and African Union bases in the past and inflicted high casualties.
Security officials told Garowe Online that more than 30 Puntland soldiers were killed and an unknown number were captured during a Shabaab raid on a base in Af Urur located in the Galgala mountains. The Shabaab fighters “completely took control” of the base and seized weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment.
Shabaab confirmed the raid in a statement that was obtained by the SITE Intelligence group. According to Shabaab, it killed 61 troops, including three officers, and captured “16 military vehicles and large quantity of weapons and ammunition as spoils.”
The Galgala mountains have long been a stronghold of Shabaab, which has carried out a number of high profile attacks there. Most recently, on April 23, Shabaab fighters killed eight troops and wounded several more in a complex IED attack. Shabaab is thought to have about 300 fighters operating in the Galgala mountains.
The Islamic State also has a presence in Galgala. An estimated 20 fighters loyal to Abdiqadir Mumin broke off from Shabaab and swore allegiance to Islamic State emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in October 2015. Several months later, Mumin was featured in a video that promoted the “first camp of the Caliphate in Somalia.”
Shabaab has successfully overrun Somali and African Union bases in the past and inflicted a large number of casualties on troops based there. In January 2016, Shabaab fighters assaulted a base in Al Ade in the south and killed at least 100 Kenya soldiers. In June 2015, Shabaab killed an estimated 60 Ethiopian soldiers in the south. That same month, Shabaab fighters killed more than 50 Burundi soldiers in Leego.
Shabaab has been resurgent in Somalia since losing ground to a combined African Union and Somali offensive in 2011. The jihadist group has slowly but methodically retaken several towns and villages that it lost, including the coastal town of Marka.
Alarmed by Shabaab’s resurgence, the Trump administration expanded the US military’s authority to target the group with “additional precision fires.” In the past, under the Obama administration, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has targeted senior Shabaab leaders and operatives in drone and conventional airstrikes. Additionally, US aircraft would strike Shabaab fighters while US personnel accompanied Somali forces on raids, but hid the activities under the guise of “defensive fires” missions.
AFRICOM’s attempts to hide direct combat operations against Shabaab targets such as training camps and IED factories as advise and assist missions whitewashed the more than 10-year-old war that the weak Somali government, the African Union, and the United States has waged against al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia. In 2016, AFRICOM announced nine “self-defense strikes” and “defensive fires” missions in Somalia. The Department of Defense has even justified airstrikes on Shabaab training camps, such as the one in Raso on March 5, 2016, as defensive operations.