Al Shabab militants target two army bases southwest of capital Mogadishu, with military confirming at least nine of its people killed but asserting "heavy losses" among attackers.
Al Shabab militants have attacked two key military bases in Somalia, detonating car bombs at both locations before engaging in an intense gun battle, an army official and witnesses said.
General Mohamed Tahlil Bihi, the commander of the infantry forces of the government, told The Associated Press on Saturday that "we lost nine of our soldiers and 11 others got wounded from our side."
He added, "from the Shabab, we killed 60 of their militias on one spot and 17 others near the other base," he said.
The bases, located about 100 km southwest of the capital Mogadishu, were struck by two explosions, witnesses said. A third explosion targeted a convoy of troops rushing to the bases from the capital after the attack, they added.
Several soldiers killed
Hussein Nur, a military officer, said the army lost "several" soldiers in the attack on Bariire and Awdhigle bases, without giving a precise number.
The army sent in reinforcements from other stations, who killed an unidentified number of attackers in the ensuing fight, he told Reuters news agency.
The army is now in control of both bases and the surrounding areas, he said, adding, "We are pursuing the militants in the surrounding jungle".
"The assailants tried to attack but thanks to our brave soldiers who knew about the tricks of the assailants, the militants were defeated and their wounded and dead bodies are strewn around, we will provide you the details later," army chief General Odowa Yusuf Rage told reporters.
Witness says military supplies torched
"The forces are still pursuing the rest of the attackers and the Somali army is in control of the both contested locations."
"We heard a heavy explosion caused by a suicide bomber ramming a car at the entrance to the base and a heavy exchange of gunfire followed," said resident Abdirahim Malin of Bariire base attack.
"A few minutes later the militant fighters managed to enter the camp and torched some military supplies belonging to the Somali army."
Al Shabab says it overran one base
Al Shabab said it had launched a vehicle-borne suicide bomb attack on the Bariire base while simultaneously attacking the nearby Awdhigle base with a car bomb and fighters, to prevent troops stationed there from reinforcing Bariire.
"We overran Bariire base, burnt three military vehicles, and took two vehicles," Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabab's spokesman for military operations, told Reuters, referring to a brief occupation of Bariire.
A third vehicle-borne explosive device hit a convoy of government troops racing from Mogadishu with reinforcements, he said.
He asserted that the group had killed 47 government fighters.
Militants from al Shabab, which is linked to al Qaeda, have waged years of attacks and levied tolls on trade in a campaign to introduce strict religious law.
Al Shabab were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still control swathes of territory from where they plan and launch frequent, deadly strikes against government and civilian targets.