KAMPALA –President Yoweri Museveni confirmed early on Sunday there had been casualties during Somalia’s Islamist group al Shabaab – attack on a military base under the Ugandan peacekeepers in the Horn of African country on Friday.
Museveni did not say how many soldiers were killed or wounded but it was the first official admission of losses in the attack among the Ugandan troops who are serving in the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia – ATMIS.
However several independent sources have since estimated the dead Ugandan soldiers to be over 120. ATMIS has remained tight-lipped on how many troops were killed or wounded in the attack.
“Condolences to the country and the families of those who died,” said Museveni in a statement, adding the country’s military had set up a panel to investigate what happened.
Al Shabaab has since 2006 has been fighting to topple Somalia’s Western-backed government and establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Museveni said during the attack “some of the soldiers there did not perform as expected and panicked, which disorganised them and the al Shabaab took advantage of that to overrun the base and destroy some of the equipment.”
Al-Shabaab fighters launched a deadly attack on an African Union military base in Somalia on Friday, where both sides reportedly suffered heavy casualties.
The assailants numbered about 800 and during the attack the Ugandan troops were forced to withdraw to a nearby base, about nine kilometres away, he said.
Al Shabaab fighters targeted the base early on Friday in Bulamarer, 130 km southwest of the capital Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab said in a statement at the time that it had carried out suicide bomb attacks and killed 137 soldiers at the base.
The peacekeeping mission has been in Somalia since 2007 and helps to defend Somalia’s central government against the Islamists.
The Islamist fighters used Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices and suicide bombers, according to the African Union.
Unverified images shared on jihadi media channels showed about a dozen Ugandan troops, with arms restrained behind their backs, being captured by the militants.
Soldiers from the Ugandan People’s Democratic Forces – UPDF are stationed at the forward operating base as a peacekeeping force.
Uganda’s Ministry of Defence Spokesman noted in a tweet on Friday that there had been “an early morning attack on our troops” in Somalia by Al-Shabaab and that the Ugandan Defence Ministry was still seeking more details.
News agencies cited a Somali army captain – saying both sides had suffered heavy casualties, but it was unclear how many people were killed.
Following the clashes ATMIS reinforcements and allies were able to destroy the Al-Shabaab militants’ weapons, the Somali army captain said.
The US State Department condemned the attack, confirming that Ugandan peacekeeping forces deployed to the African Union forward operating base were attacked.
“We express our deepest condolences to the victims’ families and friends and wish a full recovery to those injured. The United States commends the bravery and sacrifice of the troops participating in this important mission. We stand with our Somali and African Union partners in the fight to defeat terrorism and to advance peace and stability for the Somali people,” added the State Department.
“This latest attack against soldiers conducting peace support operations in Somalia only reinforces our commitment to stand with the region and to hold to account those responsible for these continuously heinous assaults against Somali citizens and those seeking to stabilize the situation in the country,” noted the EU in a statement.