At least 13 people were killed in fighting Tuesday between government forces and Islamist insurgents in southwestern Somalia, according to witnesses and officials.
The fighting began early in the day when insurgents attacked the Somali National Army base in the district of Goofgaduud, about 35 kilometers outside, Baidoa, 250 kilometers (160 miles) northwest of Mogadishu.
“About 100 heavily armed militants attacked the base with rockets and heavy machine-guns. The fighting lasted about an hour. The government forces in the camp were forced to retreat, but came back to their base immediately,” a witness told VOA on the condition of anonymity.
Another witness said he saw the dead bodies of four militants and three uniformed government soldiers lying in the streets of the district.
During the fighting, the militants ambushed a government forces convoy from nearby Baidoa town heading to the camp for reinforcement killing at least six government soldiers, a Somali military commander have confirmed to the VOA.
“The militants ambushed a convoy of government soldiers heading to Goofgaduud as a reinforcement. First, they attack with a land mine and then gunfire. They killed six soldiers and wounded two, and seized one of our military vehicles,” the commander told VOA on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.
In a statement aired by al-Shabab’s mouthpiece, Radio Andalus, the group claimed it had seized control of the entire town of Goofgaduud, killing 16 government soldiers.
Shiina Moalim Nuurow, the commander of the regional special police forces involved in the fighting, said the government soldiers remain in control of the town and repulsed the militant attack.
The group, which once ruled much of Somalia, has been fighting for years to impose its strict interpretation of Islam on Somalia.
African Union and Somali troops say they have driven the militants from urban strongholds and ports, but they have often struggled to defend smaller, more remote areas, like Goofgaduud, from such surprise and often deadly attacks.