Kampala — Two al-Shabaab suicide bombers yesterday blew themselves up at an Amisom base in Mogadishu and conflicting accounts indicate anywhere between 3 and 80 Ugandan soldiers were killed.
The militant group, which withdrew from the Somali capital in August, leaving a queasy security situation, claimed in a press statement that "the Mujahideen stormed an Amisom compound, killing 80 Ugandan soldiers."
UPDF Land Forces Commander, Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala, last night confirmed to Sunday Monitor a lunch-hour suicide attack on AU troops, but said only three soldiers perished and two were seriously injured. "Eighty soldiers dead? Are they nsenene (grasshoppers)?" Gen. Katumba asked when informed of al-Shabaab's claims. The General is in charge of the UPDF deployment in Somalia.
UPDF spokesman Felix Kulayigye returned this newspaper's telephone call at 10pm last night to say preliminary details show three soldiers died and an equal number injured; two seriously. "Those injured have been flown for treatment in Nairobi Hospital," Col. Kulayigye said. "An investigation is being carried out to know exactly how this attack happened."
The UPDF declined to name the dead, and or injured soldiers, saying it needs to first notify their relatives. Sunday Monitor could not independently verify the disproportionately varied claims about fatality figures. While al-Shabaab puts the figure at 80, the Uganda army puts it at three and the African Union ambassador based in Nairobi said only four were killed.
Mr Wafula Wamunyiyi, while condemning the attack, said by telephone from Nairobi that four Amisom soldiers were killed in a "suicide attack by Somalia insurgents dressed in Transitional Federal Government uniform". He said: "They approached the frontline and then exploded their bombs. Four Amison soldiers died on the spot and seven were injured."
The AU in a press statement said the midday attack was executed by armed terrorists, including two suicide bombers disguised as Somali Army troops, who attempted to recapture an area near German Steel Factory, which they lost two months ago.
It is understood the suicide bombing triggered heavy fighting for control of the gateway to Industrial Road, an important city artery at Mogadishu's northern border. Amisom troops repulsed the militants, AU said. However, al-Shabaab's version of events is that two suicide bombers infiltrated the Amisom compound and blasted themselves in a crowd of Ugandan soldiers on parade. It claimed to have killed 80 soldiers, including the commander, through the suicide attack and subsequent two-hour firefight.
A fortnight ago, the al-Qaeda-affiliated militants claimed to have killed 87 mainly Burundian forces in Mogadishu. Amison spokesperson, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, in a telephone interview last night declined to put figure to number of soldiers lost in yesterday's battle. "We sustained some casualties but I do not have the figures yet because fighting was still going on," he said.