Somali soldiers, some of them wounded, fled across the border into Kenya during an attack by Islamic militants on the town of Bulo Hawo on Monday, security sources said.
At least 12 people died when fighters from the Al-Qaeda-aligned Shabaab group attacked the border town, according to witnesses, while many soldiers fled westward a few kilometres to the Kenyan town of Mandera.
“We have several of the soldiers from Somalia who ran to Kenya after the attack,” said Mohamud Saleh, regional coordinator for north eastern Kenya. “Some are injured and have been taken to hospital.”
Another regional security official, who did not want to be named, said the Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers numbered “more than 100”.
The assault on Bulo Hawo followed standard Shabaab procedure with a vehicle-borne improvised bomb exploding at the entrance to the town’s main military post, followed by a coordinated attack by militants from several directions.
“Shabaab militants attacked Bulo Hawo early this morning and heavy fighting erupted inside the town,” said Ibrahim Dahir, a Somali army officer in the area.
Abdukadir Moalim, a local elder, said at least 12 people were killed, “most of them combatants”.
Bulo Hawo resident Ahmed Omar said that lacking reinforcements the SNA soldiers, left the town “and some of them crossed the border with Kenya”.
The militants stole vehicles and weapons before withdrawing.
In a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Shabaab claimed responsibility for the raid saying it killed 30 soldiers and released 35 prisoners from jail.
Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow successive internationally-backed governments in Mogadishu for the last 10 years, and also carries out occasional terrorist attacks in neighbouring Kenya.
Somalia’s army is supported by a 22,000-strong African Union force while the US also carries out drone strikes against Shabaab commanders and has, in recent months, played an increasing role in Somali commando raids targeting the group’s leaders.