NAIROBI: Ten Burundian peacekeepers were killed in Tuesday’s attack by Al-Shabab terrorists on an African Union base in Somalia, Burundi’s army said on Wednesday.
Twenty-five soldiers were also injured and five are missing while 20 Al-Shabab terrorists were killed, it said in a statement.
It was the first attack on a peacekeeping base since the AU Transition Mission in Somalia replaced the previous AMISOM force on April 1.
Somalia’s government condemned the “heinous” attack and appealed to the international community to do more to support Somali forces and ATMIS “in effectively combatting terrorism.”
AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Twitter he spoke to Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye to pay his respects for the “sacrifice” of the peacekeepers who lost their lives.
The United States, Britain and the regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development condemned the attack, with the US Embassy in Mogadishu vowing to “stand with ATMIS and Somalia’s security forces as we partner to achieve peace.”
“Our thoughts are with ATMIS, Burundian National Defense Force and all those affected. The UK stands with Somalia and partners in the fight against terrorism,” the British ambassador to Somalia, Kate Foster, said on Twitter.
The executive secretary of IGAD, Workneh Gebeyehu, said in a statement: “These attacks will neither deter nor alter the determination of IGAD and international partners to support the people of Somalia in their search for a lasting peace and stability.”
The bloodshed highlights the security woes in the troubled Horn of Africa country, which is also embroiled in a deep political crisis over delayed elections and faces the threat of famine due to a prolonged drought across the region.
AU forces sent in helicopter gunships after the pre-dawn attack on a camp housing Burundian troops near Ceel Baraf, a village some 160 km northeast of the capital Mogadishu, military officials and witnesses said.
A local military commander, Mohammed Ali, said on Tuesday that the assault began with a car bomb before a furious firefight broke out.
A high-ranking Burundian military officer said that 400 fighters stormed the base, forcing the Burundian soldiers to retreat to a nearby hillside where they continued to fight, supported by drones and helicopters.
Two Burundian military sources said that 45 peacekeepers were reported as dead or missing, with 25 others injured.
“The provisional toll is 45 soldiers killed or missing, including a battalion commander colonel,” a Burundian military source said, while a second source backed up the figures.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had taken control of the camp and that 173 soldiers had been killed.
The Al-Qaeda-linked militants have been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for more than a decade.
ATMIS — made up of troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda — is tasked with helping Somali forces take primary responsibility for security in a country that has been mired in conflict since 1991.
According to a UN resolution approving its creation, ATMIS is projected to gradually reduce staffing levels from nearly 20,000 soldiers, police and civilians to zero by the end of 2024.
Al-Shabab terrorists controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when they were driven out by AU troops.
But they still hold territory in the countryside and frequently attack civilian, military and government targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.