Somalia appoints Moscow and US-trained soldier as army chief in fallout over deadly AU base assault

Cabinet picks Mohamed Aden Ahmed as chief of army in week that scores of African Union soldiers were killed in deadly Shabaab attack.

SOMALIA’S Cabinet appointed General Mohamed Aden Ahmed as head of the nation’s armed forces, replacing Dahir Aden Elmi, Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said.

Ahmed is a graduate of the military academy in Egypt and trained in Moscow and the US, according to a statement e-mailed from Sharmarke’s office in the capitla, Mogadishu, on Thursday.

His appointment comes in the week when an attack by Islamist militants on an African Union military base in southern Somalia killed dozens of soldiers.

Fighters from the Al-Shabaab insurgent group raided the base at Janaale, about 75 kilometres (46 miles) southwest of the capital, Mogadishu. Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday that at least 50 Ugandan soldiers had died, citing unidentified Western military officials.

On Thursday Uganda’s army said 12 of its troops were killed in an attack by Islamist militants on an African Union military base in southern Somalia earlier this week.

The bodies of 10 of those killed in the September 1 assault were to be returned to Uganda on Thursday morning, with two others to follow, military spokesman Paddy Ankunda said on his Twitter account.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) “has accounted for all its soldiers” and none are missing in action, he said, adding that Western sources “on fatalities in Somalia wrong.”

“Uganda’s army “has done the head count, let the speculation stop.”

The attack ranks as one of the deadliest yet against AMISOM troops.

Somalia’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, which has recently lost a string of key bases in the face of an AMISOM offensive, said the attack was revenge for the killing of seven civilians by Ugandan troops at a wedding in the town of Merka in July.

Western military sources said the attack began with the destruction of two bridges, cutting the camp off. A suicide car bomber rammed the base followed by an estimated 200 Shabaab fighters who overran the camp.

AMISOM said its troops “undertook a tactical withdrawal” as the attack began, and the briefing note said the soldiers did not have any air support.

“Low cloud and landing restrictions prevented air support by UN contracted support helicopters,” said the briefing note.

It also said Kenyan and Ethiopian jets as well as US drones “were unavailable at the time of the attack” while AMISOM tanks and artillery located in Janale had been redeployed elsewhere.

The report highlights the challenge that AMISOM faces in holding territory seized from the Islamists, who frequently melt away into the bush in the face of conventional offensives and subsequently strike back with guerrilla assaults—where their objective is only to inflict casualties.

In June, Shabaab fighters killed dozens of Burundian soldiers when they overran an AMISOM outpost northwest of Mogadishu. The militants also stage frequent suicide attacks inside the capital.

But the AMISOM force has also made significant gains against the Shebab, pushing them out of several strongholds in the southwest of the country.

(Bloomberg, AFP)

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