Hundreds of families fled their houses in central Somalia’s Galmudug state on Tuesday after militant Islamist al-Shabaab overran an area and briefly controlled a military camp.
Masud Warsame, a senior Somali officer, told dpa that 18 people were killed in a morning assault on an army station in Mudug province’s Amara district.
After a suicide car bombing and a violent battle, the terrorists invaded the base, killing at least seven soldiers.
The army denied confirming that the Amara district had fallen completely.
“We have killed nine militants and we have lost seven soldiers. The fighting is still going on in and around Amara district, especially in the bush areas,” the military official told dpa.
Local elder, Mohamud Jama said he saw the bodies of two civilians after a mortar hit their home, taking the death toll to 18.
Jama said that powerful explosions and gunfire made the situation uncertain for many residents, forcing them to flee with their children.
“Businesses and schools are closed and hundreds of residents moved to the outskirts of the districts,” he said.
Al-Shabaab said on its radio station, Andalus, that the Somali army had “incurred heavy losses” and that its fighters seized weapons, ammunition and destroyed military vehicles while burning down the army barracks.
Amara district is one of several districts and villages liberated recently by Somali national army and regional forces, with the support of U.S. drone strikes from the air.
Al-Shabaab had been fighting for dominance in the country on the Horn of Africa for years, controlling large parts of the south and the centre and repeatedly carrying out attacks on security forces and civilians.