At least 18 African Union troops were killed in a deadly ambush in the Lower Shabelle region by al-Shabab militants, officials and security sources told VOA Somali.
The attack, near near Golweyn village, 120 kilometers south of Mogadishu, targeted a supply convoy of 24 vehicles near the town of Bulo Marer.
Al-Shabab claimed killing 39 AU soldiers, but military officials say that figure is exaggerated.
The convoy of Ugandan soldiers was as part of AMISOM that left Shalanbod town.
Residents in Jeerow village also told VOA Somali that they saw al-Shabab fighters dragging the bodies of two soldiers
AU military spokesman Wilson Rono confirmed the ambush in an interview with VOA Somali.
“There was an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] that was made on the road that hit our convoy and then they followed that up with an ambush, but so far we have not gotten the details of the casualties on both sides,” he said.
Rono denied the figure claimed by al-Shabab.
“That figure is farfetched.”
AMISOM exit strategy
The attack comes a day after AU and Somali government officials concluded a five-day conference where they discussed transitioning security responsibilities from the AU peacekeepers to the Somali national security forces. AMISOM said it will start gradual transfer of responsibilities next year.
A statement issued at the conclusion of the conference said the transition is “real and must happen, but will be gradual and conditions-based”.
The statement also said the commanders of AMISOM and Somali national forces will hold a meeting in August for a joint, coordinated operation against al-Shabab “for the rest of 2017 and beyond”.
Deputy Governor of Lower Shabelle Ali Nur Mohamed, whose region sees relentless al-Shabab attacks, says “politicization” of the rebuilding of Somali national army is delaying the process. Mohamed was referring to the apparent divisions within the Somali national army in his region.
He said some members of the national army have left the region following the infighting, which he says created a vacuum in the troops’ capability to operate alongside the AU troops.
“It was five years ago when AU and Somali troops came here in this region, but their operations have been politicized by the officials in previous governments and AMISOM officials themselves,” he said.
He said the Somali government needs to make its own plans.
Meanwhile, at least 10 people were killed and 15 others were wounded in a massive suicide car bomb attack Sunday in the Somali capital, witnesses and security sources said.
The car that exploded was in a line of vehicles on Maka Al-Mukarama road, Mogadishu’s busiest street, witnesses said.
A VOA Somali service reporter who went to the scene said the car was stuck in a traffic jam due to intensive stop and search operations by the security forces. The bomber then detonated the car filled with explosives.
A security source who could not be named said it’s believed the ultimate destination for the car used in the attack may have been the parliament, where lawmakers were discussing ongoing constitutional reviews.
Most of the victims were shoppers caught in the explosion as they came out of a supermarket next to the road.