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Analysis

Why UPDF figures of soldiers killed by al-Shabaab are not adding up

A car bomb in Mogadishu on March 23 killed at least six people and injured many more. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by al-Shabaab: AGENCY PHOTO

On Sunday morning, suspected al-Shabaab terrorists attempted to attack the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Forward Operating Bases at Quoroyole, Buulo Mareer and Golwen in Lower Shabelle Region of Somalia, in the process killing several Ugandan soldiers deployed in the war-torn country under the AMISOM force.

The UPDF put the number of Ugandan soldiers killed at four while they said six others were injured.
Captain Deo Akiiki, the deputy army spokesperson confirmed the attack, saying eight vehicles belonging to the terrorists were destroyed.

UPDF spokesperson Brig Richard Karemire stated on twitter that 30 al-Shabaab militants had been killed.

In several communications however, the terrorist group contradicted the UPDF figures, stating that they lost 14 fighters in a battle that so more than 50 AMISOM soldiers killed.

Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab said the militants killed 59 Ugandan soldiers.

“Thanks God. The attack was successful. Our mujahideen killed 59 Ugandan soldiers during the raid. We have also lost 14 of the mujahideen,” he said.

The Guardian, an international news outlet has on the other hand on Monday morning reported that local Somalia officials sated that as many as 46 Ugandan troops died in the attack by the al-Shabaab.

Militants detonated a suicide car bomb at the gate of the Ugandan army base in Bulamarer before storming into the complex. A second suicide car bomb targeted a convoy of Ugandan army reinforcements coming from a nearby base, The Guardian reported.

“It was around 9am local time when the first car, which was a truck loaded with explosives, hit the Ugandan army base and then heavy gunfire broke out,” Ali Mohamed, a local farmer, told The Guardian in a phone interview.

“Then suddenly a second car, which was another truck with explosives and was driven by a young suicide bomber, hit a convoy of Ugandan forces trying to help their friends who were under attack,” he added.

“I saw lots of smoke coming from inside the base, which was heavily guarded. Al-Shabaab fighters were shooting the soldiers. Forty soldiers died,” he said.

Abdi Nur Hashi, a Somali military colonel stationed near the Ugandan base, said 46 soldiers were killed.

Such attacks are designed to fasttrack the departure of AMISOM which has been fighting al-Shabaab for more than a decade.

Al-Shabaab, which once controlled much of Somalia, wants to topple the western-backed government in Mogadishu.

“Most of them were friends. We used to share food and drinks together in their base,” Col Hushi said. “We tried to help our Ugandan friends but there was also a suicide car which attacked our base. Many of the [Ugandan] soldiers died due to lack of emergency evacuation because the terrorists blocked the road,” he said.

The colonel said one Somali soldier died and several others were injured.

Al-Shabaab also attacked local civilians, setting houses and shops ablaze, witnesses told the Guardian.

Halima Nur, a local shop-owner, said she ran away to seek shelter, but when she returned in the afternoon there was “nothing but ashes”.

“After raiding the military base, al-Shabaab came into our shops and burned down everything. My neighbour was also killed. I was the first to escape. I am lucky to be alive,” she told the Guardian.

“Al-Shabaab several times warned us because we sell small items like cigarettes and juice to the soldiers, which al-Shabaab regards as apostasy.

“We hoped for better security, but it seems it is deteriorating. Government officials are busy quarrelling with one another while al-Shabaab launches continuous bloody attacks. We need the world to help us and do not let Amisom leave this country,” she said.

Abdifatah Haji Abdulle, the deputy governor of Lower Shabelle region, said al-Shabaab also attacked four more remote villages around Bulamarer on Sunday.

“The death toll could be higher than our current estimate. These were coordinated attacks,” the deputy governor said.

AMISOM soldiers during a patrol at a village outside Mogadishu on September 19, 2016. NET PHOTO

A series of recent attacks by al-Shabaab have underlined the movement’s resilience. In October the group was responsible for one of the bloodiest single terrorist attacks since 2001 when a bomb killed more than 500 people in Mogadishu.

There are widespread fears that a significant reduction of Amisom’s strength could lead to a resurgence of al-Shabaab.

“The struggle continues,” Brigadier Karemire said on Twitter.

In January 2016 al-Shabaab killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers at their base in El Adde, near Somalia’s southern border.

By press time Brig Karemire had not picked our calls to reconcile the numbers reported locally and in other outlets

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