Mogadishu (HMC) – Al Shabaab militants have launched a major attack against a Kenyan Defense Force (KDF) military installation in Kulbiyow town in Lower Jubba near the Kenyan border on Friday and are now in control of the base, according to witnesses and local reports.
The militants detonated two suicide car bombs that have been described as “massive”, apparently one after the other as gunmen stormed the base according to residents.
A local resident who contacted HMC has said that the both the base and the town have been overrun by Al-Shabaab forces after heavy fighting and he is anticipating heavy casualties when the smoke clears, although HMC has not been able to independently verify these claims.
Al Shabaab military spokesman has confirmed that they have taken over the base adding that they have killed 57 Kenyan soldiers at the base and seizing military hardware, a claim that has been refuted by the Kenyan military.
“That is false,” Kenyan military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna told Reuters, without giving any casualty figures. “The operation is ongoing. We are receiving updates.”
Al Shabaab also claims to have seized military hardware and vehicles in the attack.
“Two mujahideen (fighters) rammed suicide car bombs into the base in Kulbiyow town before storming it,” said Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman, adding that alongside counting 57 Kenyan bodies the group seized vehicles and weapons. “We have taken over the base.”
A local witness told HMC that he has seen the lifeless bodies of what appeared to be soldiers in KDF uniform close to the base, by his count there were “at least 30 bodies”. This has not yet been independently verified by HMC.
UPDATE: The Kenyan Ministry of Defence has released a press release with more details of the attack at Kulbiyow.
According to the statement, Al Shabaab militants attacked the base at around 5:00 am this morning after detonating two suicide car bombs and engaging with the KDF and Somali troops stationed at the base.
The press release also denied that the base has been overrun as widely reported in the media, dismissing those reports as propaganda. They added that land and air support has been called as part of a “pacification operation.”
Sources tell HMC that Al-Shabaab militants appear to be withdrawing from the base after setting fire to military vehicles and parts of the base. The sources believe the militants are retreating to avoid engaging with AMISOM reinforcements who have been sent from nearby Hughulo.
The Mayor of Kulbiyow, Mohamed Tohyare Nuh is confirmed to be one of the victims of the attack.
VOA is reporting that Al Shabaab militants have withdrawn from the base and Kenyan and Somali forces have recaptured Kulbiyow.
Al-Shabaab says that the Salah Nabhaan brigade, the same brigade that overran the El Adde base killing over 140 Kenyan soldiers are behind this attack.
The attack is reminiscent of the January 2016 attack on El Adde base where more than 100 Kenyan soldiers were killed by Al-Shabaab forces.
This attack comes just days after Al-Qaeda aligned Al Shabaab attacked a popular hotel in Mogadishu killing 28 and wounding scores more. If our sources are accurate, this would mean the same modus operandi was used in both attacks whereby militants used one car bomb to penetrate the walls of the compound and a second car bomb was set off immediately afterward.