Burundi says 10 troops killed in attack on AU base in Somalia
Ten Burundian peacekeepers were killed in Tuesday’s attack by Al-Shabaab jihadists on an African Union (AU) base in Somalia, Burundi’s army said Wednesday.
Twenty-five soldiers were also injured and five are missing while 20 Al-Shabaab militants were killed, it said in a statement.
It was the first attack on a peacekeeping base since the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) replaced the previous AMISOM force on April 1.
AU forces sent in helicopter gunships after the pre-dawn attack on a camp housing Burundian troops near Ceel Baraf, a village some 160 kilometres (100 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu, military officials and witnesses said.
A local military commander, Mohamed Ali, told AFP on Tuesday that the assault began with a car bomb before a furious firefight broke out.
A high-ranking Burundian military officer told AFP that 400 Islamist fighters stormed the base, forcing the Burundian soldiers to retreat to a nearby hillside where they continued to fight, supported by drones and helicopters.
Two Burundian military sources told AFP that 45 peacekeepers were reported as dead or missing, with 25 others injured.
“The provisional toll is 45 soldiers killed or missing, including a battalion commander colonel,” a Burundian military source told AFP on condition of anonymity, while a second source backed up the figures.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had taken control of the camp and that 173 soldiers had been killed.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants have been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for more than a decade.
– ‘Heinous’ attack –
Somalia’s government condemned the “heinous” attack and appealed to the international community to do more to support Somali forces and ATMIS “in effectively combatting terrorism.”
AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Twitter he spoke to Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye to pay his respects for the “sacrifice” of the peacekeepers who lost their lives.
The United States, Britain and the regional bloc IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) condemned the attack, with the US embassy in Mogadishu vowing to “stand with ATMIS and Somalia’s security forces as we partner to achieve peace.”
“Our thoughts are with ATMIS, Burundian National Defence Force and all those affected. The UK stands with Somalia and partners in the fight against terrorism,” the British ambassador to Somalia, Kate Foster, said on Twitter.
The executive secretary of IGAD, Workneh Gebeyehu, said in a statement: “These attacks will neither deter nor alter the determination of IGAD and international partners to support the people of Somalia in their search for a lasting peace and stability.”
The bloodshed highlights the security woes in the troubled Horn of Africa country, which is also embroiled in a deep political crisis over delayed elections and faces the threat of famine due to a prolonged drought across the region.
ATMIS — made up of troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda — is tasked with helping Somali forces take primary responsibility for security in a country that has been mired in conflict since 1991.
According to a UN resolution approving its creation, ATMIS is projected to gradually reduce staffing levels from nearly 20,000 soldiers, police and civilians to zero by the end of 2024.
Al-Shabaab fighters controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when they were driven out by AU troops.
But they still hold territory in the countryside and frequently attack civilian, military and government targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.