Al-Shabaab attacks US base, EU convoy in Somalia

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The twisted remains of a car bomb in Mogadishu that was targeted at EU military advisors

The twisted remains of a car bomb in Mogadishu that was targeted at EU military advisors (AFP Photo/Abdirazak Hussein FARAH)

Mogadishu (AFP) - The Al-Shabaab militant group claimed responsibility for an attack on a US base in Somalia on Monday, as the European Union confirmed a separate strike against a convoy of Italian advisers.

The raid on the base prompted a counter-attack by US forces who staged "two air strikes and used small arms fire targeting al-Shabaab terrorists," Major General William Gayler, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) director of operations said, adding that 10 "terrorists" died and a vehicle was destroyed.

"Though ineffective, (the raid) demonstrates the direct threat al-Shabaab poses to Americans, our allies, and interests in the region," Gayler said.

The militants struck the US base at Baledogle, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, with explosives before gunmen opened fire on the compound.

In a statement, Al-Shabaab said: "In the early hours of Monday morning, an elite unit of soldiers... launched a daring raid on the US military base."

"After breaching the perimeters of the heavily fortified base, the Mujahideen (holy fighters) stormed the military complex, engaging the crusaders in an intense firefight."

The Shabaab claimed they had killed dozens in the attack, however the US Mission to Somalia and a Somali military official said there were no casualties.

"We already had the information about the attackers and simply repelled them before they reached our defence barriers. There was no casualty inflicted on our soldiers or on the US soldiers in the base," the military official said on condition of anonymity.

Witnesses in the Baledogle area said that a heavy exchange of gunfire after the initial explosion had ended.

"We cannot hear any fighting for some hours now but... the whole area around the base is being patrolled by American military helicopters," said Abdullahi Osman, a witness.

AFRICOM denied Al-Shabaab fighters penetrated the camp's defences, saying that Somali security forces repelled the attack.

"We are thankful that there were no SNA (Somali National Army) casualties between the multiple attacks."

Baledogle is a major launching site for US drone operations against Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-linked group which controls large parts of Somalia, and the Islamic State in Somalia outfit.

"Two heavy explosions occurred, the first one bigger than the other. There was also a heavy exchange of gunfire after the blasts but we don't know about the details," Mohamed Adan, a Somali elder close to the scene of the attack, told AFP by phone.

- Car bomb hits convoy -

In a separate incident on Monday, a security official said EU advisers training the Somali National Army were attacked by a car bomb in Mogadishu.

"There was a car bomb targeting the EU military advisors along the industrial road. A vehicle loaded with explosives was rammed into one of the convoy vehicles," said Omar Abikar, a Somali security officer.

A statement from the EU Training Mission in Somalia confirmed the convoy had been "hit by an explosion" while returning from the army headquarters.

"No EUTM-S soldiers were injured in the explosion. Two vehicles sustained damage," read the statement.

The mission offers military advice and provides training to Somalia's army, still propped up by some 20,000 African peacekeepers as the country recovers from decades of civil war and an Islamist insurgency.

Italy's defence ministry confirmed that two armoured vehicles in an Italian convoy "were involved in an explosion," adding that so far "there have been no consequences for Italian soldiers".

SITE Intelligence, which monitors jihadist activities worldwide, said Al-Shabaab had claimed responsibility for both attacks.

AFRICOM said in a brief statement emailed to AFP that it was "monitoring the situation. We are working to confirm details on the incident."

Baledogle is a Soviet-built base which, despite secrecy surrounding US operations in Somalia, has emerged as one of the bases from where they carry out their strikes.

US strikes in Somalia surged in April 2017, after President Donald Trump declared the south of the country an "area of active hostilities". The rate of air strikes has risen sharply this year.

In an April statement AFRICOM said it had killed more than 800 people in 110 air strikes in Somalia since April 2017.

Monday's attacks are the latest in a long line of bombing and assaults claimed by Al-Shabaab.

The jihadists were driven out of Mogadishu by government forces backed by 20,000 African Union peacekeepers in 2011. But they still carry out attacks including suicide bombings against government and international targets.