Bodies of Kenyan soldiers dragged through Somali streets after al-Shabaab attack on base
Kenyan Defence Force initially denies its base was overrun, says KDF soldiers went to the aid of a local Somali base that was attacked; Amisom later confirms attack, says fighting continues
By By Aislinn Laing, Johannesburg for the Telegraph
The bodies of Kenyan soldiers were said to have been dragged through the streets of a Somali town yesterday after fighters from al-Shabaab launched a suicide and gun attack on their African Union base.
The attack on the remote outpost manned by Kenyan troops near the town of Ceel Cadde, about 340 miles west of the capital Mogadishu in a region near Kenya’s border, happened just after dawn prayers on Friday.
The gates of the base were rammed by a suicide bomber in a car before fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic insurgency overran the facility, sending its residents fleeing.
A spokesman for al-Shabaab said 63 Kenyan soldiers had been killed. “It was carried out by our special brigade, which deals with Kenya attacks,” he told the BBC.
“There is no more fighting. We counted 63 Kenyan bodies inside the base. There were 31 military vehicles inside the camp, we have confiscated 28 of them plus all the arms and ammunition in the stores.”
The Kenyan military denied the death toll, saying it was pure “propaganda”. He added that fighters on both sides had been killed but declined to give numbers.
The attack is the third on Amisom bases by al-Shabaab in less than a year. In June, 54 Burundians were killed in an attack on their base in Leego and in September 19 Ugandan troops died when their base in Jannaale was attacked. The multinational force has a 22,000-strong force made up of troops from across east and central Africa.
The Kenyan Defence Force initially denied that its base had been attacked, saying a nearby Somali military base had been stormed and its soldiers had been deployed to help counter the attack.
Local reports suggested however that the distinctive black and white flag of al-Shabaab had been hoisted over the Amisom base.
Those living in the town told the BBC that the bodies of dead soldiers had been paraded through the streets by triumphant al-Shabaab militants.
“We heard a loud explosion at about 5:30am (02:30GMT), followed by heavy gunfire,” one witness said on Friday morning.
“At the moment the camp is in the hands of al-Shabaab. We can see military cars burning and dead soldiers all over the place.”
A shopkeeper in the Ceel Cadde town said soldiers from Amisom appeared to have left the town and fighters were on the streets.
“We see al-Shabaab in every corner of town,” Abdullahi Iidle told Reuters. “Some residents have fled.”
Local media posted pictures on social media of the bodies of uniformed, dead soldiers splayed in the dust as villagers looked on.
The Kenyan Defence Force responded by bombing al-Shabaab camps in the wider region, with jets and helicopters strafing enemy fighters who responded with anti-aircraft weapons.
The attack came as leaders from Somalia’s regions concluded talks on how elections can be held in the country, given the poor security situation.
Al-Shabaab has been driven out of major strongholds in Somalia in recent years in a joint offensive by Amisom and local forces, but is still believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters who regularly launch guerrilla-style assaults and bomb attacks.
John Stupart, managing director of the African Defence Review, said the struggle to maintain a state of readiness amid rolling deployments at Amisom bases made them ideal targets for al-Shabaab.
“For al-Shabaab the control of strategic assets has ceased to be an option since Kenyan forces joined the Amisom effort,” he said.
“Attacks like this just serve to show that despite what Amisom is saying – that Somalia is developing and they are on the back foot, that they are still very much in a position to strike back, which is the Modus Operandi of all counter-insurgencies, the ability to spread fear.”