The extremist group Al-Shabab attacked a Kenyan military base that is part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) program early Friday.
The group rammed two suicide car bombs into the base and seized the camp in Kulbiyow, in the Lower Jubba region, according to al-Shabab's military operation spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab. A resulting firefight left at least 70 dead.
"We are pursuing the Kenyan soldiers who ran away into the woods," Abu Musab said.
There are discrepancies in the number of soldiers and militants killed in Friday's attack. Kenya's army says nine of its soldiers died in the attack, while 70 militants were killed, according to a statement from a Kenyan military spokesman. Abu Musab said the attack left at least 51 Kenyan soldiers dead, but would not comment on the number of militants killed.
Kenyan police responding to the attack hit an improvised explosive device, leaving two officers dead and four wounded, according to a Kenyan official speaking on condition of anonymity. Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna confirmed the attack was committed by Al-Shabab.
Kenya's Defense Ministry released a statement saying an "intensive Pacification Operation is underway" and KDF soldiers will "continue to relentlessly pursue the terrorist to ensure peace and security of our country, Kenya, as well as support AMISOM operations in order to stabilize Somalia," which was retweeted by the official AMISOM account.
Fighting for control
Al-Shabab has previously attacked peacekeeping missions in Somalia in its efforts to topple the government in Mogadishu. African Union and Somali troops pushed Al-Shabab out of most urban strongholds, including Mogadishu, in 2011, but have struggled to keep smaller areas safe from attack. Al-Shabab still launches guerilla attacks in the capital, including one that killed at least 26 in a Mogadishu hotel on Wednesday.
In January 2016 Al-Shabab claimed that it killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in El-Adde, a Somali camp that is near the border between the countries. The Kenyan military did not give details of the casualties of the attack.
Thousands of African Union troops are in Somalia to support the Horn of Africa nation's weak government. Somali forces are supposed to take on more responsibilities as AMISOM is expected to withdraw by the end of 2020, but security concerns and al-Shabab attacks have delayed presidential elections, which could prove crucial in helping the nation recover from decades of civil war.
kbd/bw (AP, Reuters)