The governor of Lower Shabelle region, Ibrahim Aden Najah, told VOA Somali that the militants attacked near the town of Barire, 47 kilometers (29 miles) southwest of Mogadishu.
Najah said government forces repulsed an initial attack, which began around 4:30 a.m. local time, but the militants launched a second assault and heavy fighting ensued.
Two suicide bombers
Al-Shabab claimed suicide bombers detonated two cars filled with explosives before its fighters stormed the base. The group claimed to have overrun the base, killed “many soldiers” and seized 11 vehicles, five of which were battle wagons.
Reuters reports at least 15 soldiers were killed.
A security official who was briefed on the attack said personnel at the base were divided into two camps for tactical reasons. One camp was defended by U.S.-trained special forces while the second camp was run by the regular military. He said the militants penetrated the camp run by the regular military.
During the attack, al-Shabab militants disrupted efforts to send help, a security source said. A convoy of military vehicles from a nearby base was hit by an improvised explosive device, while militants fired mortars at another base called Laanta Buuro in an apparent attempt to stop reinforcements.
Officials are confident reinforcements will reach the base within hours.
Somali troops captured Barire in August from al-Shabab. On Aug. 25, Somali troops accompanied by U.S. advisers were involved in a shooting that left 10 civilians dead at a nearby farm. The Somali government admitted errors were made and accepted responsibility for the civilian deaths.
String of attacks
Al-Shabab leader Ahmed Omar Abu Ubaidah vowed revenge for the fatal confrontation.
Lower Shabelle is Somalia’s most fertile and largest region, and the government has struggled to clear al-Shabab from the area.
Friday’s assault was the third major military base al-Shabab has attacked this month. On Sept. 3, the group hit the Bulogudud military base 30 km north of Kismayo, killing seven soldiers. On Sept. 11 militants stormed a government base and police station in Beled Hawo, killing 16. Five days later al-Shabab stormed the town of El-Wak, forcing a small number of government troops to flee into Kenya. One civilian was killed and militants raided the offices and stores of three aid organizations, looting food, computers and other items.
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