At least 16 people were killed, most of them regional government soldiers, after al-Shabab militants attacked the Somali town of Beled Hawo on Monday, officials and residents said. Four other people were killed in incidents elsewhere in the country.
Security sources say militants attacked three locations in Beled Hawo, which sits on the Somalia-Kenya border.
The first attack targeted a military base, about six kilometers outside Beled Hawo. The mayor of Beled Hawo, Mohamud Hayd Osman, told VOA Somali the militants detonated a suicide car bomb before storming the base.
“The troops evacuated their wounded, and retreated to another location three kilometers away,” he said.
Independent security sources told VOA Somali that 14 government soldiers were killed in the attack, with eight others wounded. Soldiers fled the base following the heavy attack and crossed into Kenya, the sources say.
After overrunning the base, militants entered the town and attacked the main police station, residents told VOA.
Osman says two civilians were killed in that attack. “They were unable to penetrate the station first, but they have detonated explosives on the perimeter,” he said.
The third attack by the militants targeted the town’s district headquarters. Osman said the militants detonated explosives at the building that houses the mayor’s office, causing damage.
As al-Shabab fighters and Somali soldiers battled, Kenyan troops launched artillery fire on advancing militants to prevent them from entering Kenya.
Residents also said they saw Kenyan military helicopters in the air, trying to force al-Shabab militants to withdraw from the town. The militants retreated just over an hour after entering the town, Osman said.
Al-Shabab claimed to have killed nearly 40 soldiers and freed 35 inmates from prison. Osman denies the claim. He said police freed the prisoners in order to save them from being killed by al-Shabab.
Meanwhile, three government soldiers were killed in an ambush by militants near the town of Bal’ad, 30 kilometers from Mogadishu, witnesses said. They told VOA Somali that gunmen ambushed a military convoy which departed Bal’ad on its way to Jowhar town.
In Mogadishu, a car bomb went off in the city’s busiest road. Witnesses said one person was killed and four others were injured in the car bomb at Maka Al-Mukarama road.
Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies
AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.
Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.
One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.
“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.
A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.
The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.
“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.
The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.
“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.
In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.
He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.
Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.
Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens
BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.
The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.
Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.
The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.
Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.
“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.
Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.
Watch this presser. pic.twitter.com/wEH19WsG7t
— Abdisalam Aato (@AbdisalamAato) April 16, 2018
The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.
That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.
Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.
One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.
The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.
The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.