Jihadists strike military base in Somalia as AU force starts drawdownWed, 21 Jun 2023 15:35:31 GMT

A military base in Somalia came under attack by Al-Shabaab jihadists on Wednesday,police and witnesses said, just as the African Union announced it was beginning a drawdown of troops in the violence-wracked nation.Almost simultaneous suicide bomb blasts targeted the base in the southern city of Baardhere, which hosts both Ethiopian and Somali troops, triggering heavy gunfire, the sources said.There was no immediate information about any casualties from the attack, which was claimed by Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate that has been waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government for more than 15 years.”The first explosion which is presumed to have been carried by a suicide bomber targeted the entrance of the ADC military base in Baardhere where Ethiopian forces are stationed and train Somali troops,” local police officer Abdi Bare said.”The second blast occurred in the same area within a few minutes after the first one, there are some casualties but we don’t have the details so far,” he said, adding that the situation in the area was “now normal”.Local resident Bare Hassan reported “heavy gunfire” after the first blast at the base in Baardhere, which lies in Jubaland state about 450 kilometres (280 miles) from the capital Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab has continued to wage deadly attacks in Somalia in the face of a major offensive by pro-government forces backed by the AU force known as ATMIS against the jihadist group.Less than four weeks ago, 54 Ugandan peacekeepers were killed when Al-Shabaab fighters stormed an AU base located southwest of Mogadishu in one of the deadliest attacks since the offensive was launched last year.And earlier this month, six civilians were killed in a six-hour siege at a beachside hotel in Mogadishu.- Army chief sacked -Earlier Wednesday, the African Union Transition Mission announced it had started to reduce troop numbers in Somalia in line with UN resolutions which mandate a drawdown of 2,000 soldiers by the end of June 2023.It said it handed over a base operated by Burundian forces in Hirshabelle state in south-central Somalia to the Somali National Army.Somalia’s army and police are set to assume full security by the end of 2024, 17 years after the AU force was created by the UN Security Council to help in the fight against Al-Shabaab. The UN Security Council is due to confer on Somalia on Thursday.ATMIS in April last year replaced the previous mission known as AMISOM, which had a force of about 20,000 drawn from several nations including Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.Kenya has suffered a string of retaliatory assaults over its involvement in Somalia, and there have been several deadly bomb blasts in the remote northeast of the country near the border.In the latest incident suspected to be the work of Al-Shabaab, two policemen and a civilian were killed when their vehicle ran over an IED in the county of Mandera on Tuesday, local officials said.Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office in May last year and pledged “all-out” war against the jihadists who were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 but remain entrenched in areas of south and central Somalia.Earlier this week Mohamud — who is on a trip to the United States — sacked the head of the army, Odowaa Yusuf Rageh, and named Ibrahim Sheikh Muhidin as his successor.The Horn of Africa nation of about 17 million people is struggling to emerge from decades of conflict and natural disasters including drought and flooding. One of the poorest countries on the planet, Somalia has been mired in chaos since the fall of dictator Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991.In a key step last month, the government announced plans for the country’s first nationwide one-person one-vote elections to be held next year, replacing a complex clan-based indirect system.