Shabaab targets African Union, Kenyan troops in southern Somalia

Shabaab’s statement regarding the suicide assault on the Baraawe base, as translated by al Qaeda’s Al Hijrah Media.

Al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, Shabaab, has claimed responsibility for two attacks against both African Union (or AMISOM) and Kenyan troops inside southern Somalia. However, the group has likely overstated its successes.

In a statement released earlier today by its Shahada News Agency, Shabaab said that it “opened up the blessed month of Ramadan with two martyrdom operations with explosive-laden vehicles on the Ugandan base at the Baraawe airport.”

The jihadist group further claimed the bombings “resulted in huge losses in the ranks of the Ugandan forces.” But AMISOM, the Ugandan military, and the Somali government have reported otherwise.

In a tweet earlier today, AMISOM confirmed that an assault did take place and that it involved two suicide car bombs. But the African Union mission added that “troops thwarted an attempt by Shabaab terrorists to attack the airport.”

Speaking to local media, the Ugandan military commander at the base stated that his men were able to detonate the vehicles before they got close to the base.

A press report released by Somalia’s Ministry of Information repeated these details, adding that no Ugandan or Somali troops were killed in the attack.

Other sources have stated that one suicide car bomb may have detonated close to the entrance of the base, but this has not been confirmed. That said, Shabaab’s vague statement regarding “huge losses” to AMISOM was likely an effort to obfuscate its own losses in the raid.

In a separate claim of responsibility, Shabaab also reported that its men targeted Kenyan troops near the town of Hosingow which lies in the border region between Somalia and Kenya.

Kenyan forces acknowledged an attack on one of its bases in this area earlier this week, but stressed that the raid was repulsed, undercutting Shabaab’s version of events. Shabaab then tried to target another Kenyan base in the Gedo region but this too was reportedly pushed back.

Shabaab’s recent operations in Jubaland come as Somali troops have launched a new offensive in the region aimed at dislodging the jihadists from several key towns.

This also comes after Somali troops, led by the U.S.-trained Danab special forces units, recaptured the strategic town of Janaale in the Lower Shabelle region from the Al Qaeda branch.

The United States also conducted at least five airstrikes in coordination with Somali and AMISOM troops during that operation. The recapture of Janaale represents a significant loss to Shabaab. Assuming Somali forces hold onto the town, Shabaab will be losing one of its centers of revenue.

Despite that loss and the recent loss of several key commanders, Shabaab continues to be one of Al Qaeda’s most effective branches. It maintains significant control over much of southern Somalia and retains the ability to strike in Mogadishu, Kenya, and against heavily fortified bases.

Though its fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, it has weathered numerous offensives from an array of local, regional, and international actors, including the United States.

Some spellings of “Shabaab” have been changed for consistency.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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