African Union Mission in Somalia
Somalian soldiers and peacekeepers from the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have made significant gains against al-Shabaab, recently pushing them out of several strongholds in the south-west of the country Reuters/Feisal Omar

More than 20 African Union (AU) soldiers have been killed after Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab militants rammed a suicide car bomb into a base today (01 September) before storming the compound.

The AU force in Somalia (AMISOM) insisted it was in control of the base in Janale district, 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Mogadishu, but eye-witnesses said the extremists had taken over the camp and were looting the weapons cache.

"The base is still under AMISOM control, reports that the base has been taken over and our weapons captured are false," an AMISOM statement said.

The al-Shabaab attack was a revenge for the killing of seven civilians by Ugandan troops at a wedding in the town of Merka in July, the fighters said.

"The attack started with a suicide bomb explosion and the fighters stormed the base, engaging in fighting that continued inside the military camp for about 40 minutes," al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab said.

'Collecting dead bodies' for propaganda

The number of victims was still unclear at the time of publication - with witnesses speaking of more than 20 bodies at the site while Al-Shabaab spokesman claimed "about 50 soldiers" were killed in the attack and that others drowned in a nearby river while fleeing.

An AMISOM spokesman said the Janale camp was manned by up to 150 Ugandan soldiers but could not confirm any casualty figures as he was "still waiting details" from the area commander.

Local resident Hussein Idris, however, told the AFP he saw gunmen load corpses of the troops onto trucks - Al-Shabaab has previously gathered bodies of dead soldiers for use in propaganda videos of its attacks.

This attack is part of a string of ambushes led by Al-Shabaab, which is fighting to overthrow Somalia's internationally-backed and AU-protected government.

In June, the militants killed more than 30 Burundian peacekeepers when they overran an AMISOM outpost northwest of Mogadishu.

What is AMISOM?

Headed by the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia (SRCC) Ambassador Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an active regional peace support mission set up by the Peace and Security Council of the African Union with the full support of the United Nation.

The bulk of its 22,126 troops come from six countries: Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, with Burundi the largest contributor with 5,432 soldiers.