Cameras picked up the two white trucks carrying bombs and fighters through the bush towards Somalia’s most secure military base, home to U.S. special forces, foreign trainers and the Somali special forces they mentor.
The alarm was raised. By the time the al Shabaab insurgents were a few hundred yards from the perimeter of Baledogle military airfield on Monday, Danaab – Somalia’s elite commandos – were waiting, their trainers beside them, Reuters reports.
One truck bomb detonated far from the perimeter fence. Eight attackers in uniforms jumped from the other, but Danaab soldiers gunned them down almost immediately, said a Somali security official.
Then the second truck was hit by a U.S. air strike. The explosion was captured on video footage provided to Reuters by two security experts.
Al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group, has launched a string of complex attacks in the past two months on Somali security forces, African Union peacekeepers and – on Monday – European Union and U.S. forces.
But local and international security officials dismissed Monday’s attack on Baledogle – which followed a separate bomb attack on an Italian military convoy – as a high-profile stunt rather than a serious assault.
“This is a publicity stunt,” said the Somali security official who provided details of the attack on condition of anonymity. “Baledogle military airfield is very highly defended. It’s not easy (to attack). You can always try, but you will not succeed.”
The attacks are unlikely to influence the commitment to training Somalia forces or a review of the U.S. military presence in Africa as it focuses attention on China and Russia, a U.S. defence official said.
There are usually between 6,000 and 7,000 U.S. troops in Africa, with about 6,500 there currently, the official said. Potential troop reductions do not include Somalia, now home to between 650 and 800 U.S. troops. The review is expected to be completed this month and will then go to the secretary of defence and chairman of the joint chiefs.
Despite persistent attacks, Somalia’s international partners are more concerned with rising political tensions between the federal government and member states and reducing corruption among the Somali troops they are training to take over security responsibility from an African Union peacekeeping force.
Partners have struggled to cut graft in the Somali army by building a payroll system based on biometric data. In December 2017, the U.S. government suspended aid including food, fuel and stipends for around 18 months to units not directly supervised until accountability was strengthened.