Al-Shabaab militants have attacked a U.S. base in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia with European Union troops targeted in a separate bombing nearby, U.S. Africa Command and the E.U. training mission said.
The attack began around 11 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) on Monday, September 30 when at two vehicles packed with explosives were detonated at the gate of the Baledogle airfield complex.
Citing a man who said he was 300 m away, Goobjoog News reported that the attack started with two truck bombs followed by gunfire. Somali National Army radio later reported that troops had repelled the attack.
Al-Shabaab said it was behind the attack, claiming to have stormed the base.
But U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Y. Yamamoto said in a statement that Somali “security forces stopped this ultimately failed attack due to their alertness and swift response, not allowing the attackers to breach the outer defensive perimeters of the base.”
No U.S. or partner forces were injured in the attack, U.S. Africa Command said.
“This attack, though ineffective, demonstrates the direct threat al-Shabaab poses to Americans, our allies, and interests in the region,” AFRICOM director of operations Major General William Gayler said, “Incidents like this will not compromise the pressure being placed on this terrorist network by the Federal Government of Somalia and international partners.”
In response to the VBIED, AFRICOM carried out an airstrikes and targeted al-Shabaab with “small arms fire,” the command said. U.S. and partner forces killed 10 militants and destroyed a vehicle involved in the attack.
Initial assessments are that no civilians were injured or killed in the attack or as a result of the strikes, AFRICOM said.
The U.S. has about 500 troops in Somalia. U.S. forces use the Baledogle (or Ballidoogle) airfield, in the Wanlawayn district roughly 95 km (60 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, to train Somali commandoes for counter-terrorism missions and launch drone strikes on al-Shabaab militants.
In an apparent separate attack, a convoy from the E.U. Training Mission Somalia was hit by an explosion near Mogadishu shortly after the Baledogle bombing, Voice of America investigative reporter Harun Maruf said.
The EUTM said in a statement that the convoy was hit at 11:16 a.m. local time when “returning from an activity” in Villa Gashandigha, headquarters of the Somali defense ministry and Somali National Army General Staff. No soldiers were wounded, it said.
Two VTLM Lince tactical vehicles were hit by an explosion when returning from training with Somali forces, the Italian Armed Forces General Staff tweeted, adding that there were no known casualties among Italian forces.
— Forze Armate StatoMaggioreDifesa (@SM_Difesa) September 30, 2019
EUTM Somalia was launched in December 2010 and has been based in Mogadishu since 2014.
Naval Facilities Engineering Command awarded a $12 million contract for emergency runway repairs at Camp Baledogle in September 2018, and it was expected to be completed this month.
According to a March Stripes report, AFRICOM originally planned to train a battalion of Somali Army Danab Advanced Infantry Brigade commandoes, but a 3,000-troop brigade is now planned. Baledogle is home the the brigade headquarters.
Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government. The army, which largely relies on African Union Mission in Somalia forces for military support, is regularly targeted.
The Shabaab was routed from Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong AMISOM mission, and has had to abandon most of its strongholds, but it still controls vast rural areas and remains the key threat to peace in Somalia and carries out attacks in neighboring Kenya.
U.S. strikes in Somalia surged after President Donald Trump declared southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities” in April 2017, according to rights group Amnesty International.
This story was updated throughout the day on September 30 and on October 1 to correct the number of airstrikes U.S. Africa Command carried out; AFRICOM said on October 1 that it carried out one airstrike during the Baledogle attack, not two as it originally said.