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Islamist militant group al- Shabab reportedly overran an African Union military base in southern Somalia early on Tuesday. AMISOM says it never lost control of the base and claims troop morale is high.
The attack on the base of the African Union forces in Somalia (AMISOM) began with a suicide car bombing at the base's gate, followed by an hour-long firefight. For more details, Deutsche Welle spoke to AMISOM spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna.
DW: There are conflicting reports about the incident, especially the number of casualties. Can you briefly tell us what happened?
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna: The information I have right now is that, yes, there was an attack in the morning. There is a bridge that was taken by al-Shabab which we have been to take back in less than half an hour. I cannot talk about how many people have died for now but once we are through with this operation, then it is possible to give proper details.
Witnesses say that al-Shabab took over control of the base. What can you tell us about this?
There will be claims all the time. The position of now is that AMISOM has taken over its base and has crossed over to the other side of the bridge and has taken over the bridge. That is the information we have.
In other words, they took over your base for some time?
They were engaged in exchanges of gunfire for a very long time today. At no time at all did we lose control of our areas of operation and up to now we are still in control.
What about the AMISOM base? Did al-Shabab take over control of the base at any time?
No, they did not take control of any base at any time; we have been fighting since five a.m. to try to make sure that does not happen.
This is not the first time that the militants have attacked your base. Isn't this a sign of laxity on the part of AMISOM?
We have been in this operation for a long time, we are engaged with people who are engaged in asymmetric warfare. From time to time you will have situations where they will try to attack our position but most of the times, as you have seen, we have been able to fight back. We been able to take over many towns and liberate them as well. The nature of the operations we are undergoing is such that we shall get attacked once in a while but we will always be able to wrestle back and at least defend our areas of operations.
What steps have you taken to ensure that such attacks do not happen again?
The steps have always been there. First of all, and we have said this before, we depend on the intelligence that we get from our own people and from the people of Somalia. We depend on getting information so that we are informed when attacks are imminent and how to defend the Somali people. For us the information is the cause of action and after that we are able to do what we have been doing successfully.
Are soldiers motivated to repel al-Shabab attacks?
AMISOM forces are motivated to do what they do. That's why we have been successful since we started operation ‘Ego' and now we are ‘Jubba Corridor', the morale of our soldiers has been the same. Of course that is enhanced by the success we have had. When soldiers are successful, the morale is always high. I'm sure in the last week you have seen that we have been visited by the Deputy Chief of Defense Forces from UPDF [Ugandan People's Defense Force] and this weekend by the army commander from Kenya. These visits increased morale, the morale of AMISOM is very high. It is important that you visit us in Somalia, because the security situation is getting better by the day. AMISOM facilitates for media houses to visit us in Somalia and we would want to see more of you coming to visit us, so you can tell the story from the ground.
Interview: Isaac Mugabi