Shabaab militants in Somalia on Sunday claimed they had killed 39 African Union troops in an ambush in the country’s south.
The claim by the Al-Qaeda linked insurgents, made by the group’s spokesman on an affiliated radio station, could not be immediately verified.
Local residents did confirm to AFP that fighting had taken place Sunday in the Lower Shebelle region, a hotly contested area where Shabaab’s spokesman said they had staged their ambush.
“The mujahedeen fighters stood over the dead bodies of 39 soldiers, among them senior commanders”, Abdiaziz Abu Muzab told Andalus radio.
The African Union has a 22,000 strong force in the country dedicated to fighting Shabaab and backing up the internationally backed government in the capital Mogadishu.
Residents said the AU troops were ambushed in the village of Golweyn some 120 kilometres (74 miles) as they escorted supplies along the road that connects Mogadishu to Lower Shebelle.
“Fighting broke out and continued for more than one hour”, said Ali Osman, a witness to the battle.
In April, a minibus travelling through Golweyn hit a landmine, killing at least 14 people.
That attack was also blamed on Shabaab, which has fought successive governments in Mogadishu and also carried out attacks in Kenya and Uganda.
Brig Richard Karemire the UPDF spokesperson confirmed the incident but did not reveal details of the damage.
“…a joint SNA/AMISOM UPDF patrol under 7th Battalion of Battle group twenty two was ambushed by Alshabaab terrorists. The incident took place at Gorowen between Bulumaler and Beladamini in Lower Shabelle region about 140Kms South West of Mogadishu. The troops equivalent of a company minus were conducting a regular patrol to secure the Mogadishu Barawe Main Supply Route (MSR) which still harbours pockets of Alshabaab insurgents,” Brig Karemire said in a statement.
Brig Karemire said that a lot of damage was inflicted on the Al Shaaab while “our troops took fatalities whose number is yet to be ascertained and will be made known as the situation evolves,” added a statement released by the UPDF spokesman.