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Foreign Soldiers Reportedly Attacked an al-Shabaab Base in Somalia, Days After US Airstrikes

Reports of the early morning incident came from both al Shabaab and a Somali official saying foreign soldiers from an unnamed country traveled by helicopters and landed near the militant's base 30 miles outside Mogadishu.
A Somali police officer stands guard on March 9 at the site of a car bombing in Mogadishu hours after al Shabaab fought off an attack at one of its bases. Photo by Feisal Omar / Reuters

Unidentified foreign fighters reportedly attacked a base occupied by the Somali militant group al-Shabaab on Wednesday, killing 15 fighters from the Islamist group, just days after the US military launched airstrikes at the militants.

Reports of the early morning incident came from both al-Shabaab itself and a Somali official. The militant group's spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said foreign soldiers from an unnamed country attacked the base located some 30 miles (50 km) outside of the capital Mogadishu in the Lower Shabelle region.


"They were masked and spoke foreign languages which our fighters could not understand," Abu Musab told Reuters. "We do not know who they were but we foiled them."

The troops engaged in a firefight that left one of the militants dead, the spokesman said. According to Abu Musab aircraft landed along the River Shabelle, dropping off commandos who then proceeded to the base in the town of Awdhegle. The troops carried M16 rifles and rocket launchers with them during the assault.

American officials later confirmed to media outlets that US military troops worked with Somali military to carry out the mission, saying the operation had left some militants dead.

District commissioner in the region Mohamed Aweis told the BBC that 15 members of al-Shabaab died in the raid. Aweis said white soldiers had staged the assault on the Awdhegle base and surrounding locations. The information seemed to corroborate al-Shabaab's claim that two helicopters were used and that foreign troops had participated in the raid.

"Their targets were three al-Shabaab positions at the outskirts of the town plus one position inside the town," he said, saying some militants were allegedly captured alive. "They also took with them some al-Shabaab dead bodies. I can confirm the death toll is 15."

Cell phone lines were down during the raid, while people living in the area reported both hearing gunfire and seeing helicopters, according to Reuters. People were barred by al-Shabaab from accessing the site, making independent evaluation of the death toll impossible.


"We were awoken by exchange of heavy guns," resident Ahmed Farah told Reuters by phone. "We could see the helicopters land and fly."

With no one yet to come forward to take responsibility or any details relating to the nationality of the troops, the attack could have been perpetrated by commandos from various countries that have boots on the ground in the area. The African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, AMISOM, has stationed fighters from a number of African countries within the country's borders to support the government in fighting the militant group.

Al-Shabaab, meaning "youth," first formed in Somalia in 2006 with the aim of toppling the weak government and implementing a harsh brand of Islamic law. The AMISOM mission got underway in 2011 and has succeeded in pushing the fighters from strongholds in Mogadishu and along the coast. As a result, al-Shabaab has ramped up its attacks on participating nations, particularly Kenya and Uganda.

Most recently, the US carried out an air raid on a different al-Shabaab base, taking out upwards of 150 militants. Al-Shabaab denied this number, saying the death toll was lower. The US previously revealed that American military advisers have had a presence in the country since 2007. When this information emerged in 2014, the government said it would boost efforts to help Somalia in its fight against al-Shabaab.

Despite being pushed out from Mogadishu in recent years, al-Shabaab has been increasingly active so far this year in the capital waging suicide bombings and attacks on beaches, hotels, and parks. On Wednesday, the militants said they were responsible for a car bomb that went off near a police facility, killing several officers who were going through training. A spokesman for the group said 10 police were killed, while Somali authorities reported just three deaths. It's typical for al Shabaab and Somali officials to report different figures, with the militants often citing a higher death toll.

The group carried out several violent assaults in Somalia in February, including a bombing at the end of the month at a busy junction and a nearby restaurant in the town of Baidoa, killing as many as 55 people. Just two days earlier on February 26, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a deadly park bombing and an attack at the nearby Somali Youth League hotel. A mortar shell attack also occurred near the presidential palace.

Al-Shabaab gunmen carried out a siege at a popular beach earlier this year, killing more than a dozen people, and in February a suicide bomber linked to the group detonated a bomb on a plane leaving Mogadishu's international airport, damaging it and killing himself but failing to bring it down.

In January, al-Shabaab carried out its deadliest attack against Kenyan troops, reportedly killing some 200 at the African Union's El Adde base.

Reuters contributed to this report.