Mogadishu: Shabaab fighters attacked an Ethiopian army base in central Somalia early Thursday in the latest raid targeting foreign soldiers deployed as part of an African Union force in the country, rebels and local residents said.
The Al-Qaeda linked militants attacked the base in Halgan in Hiran region, the group said in a statement distributed on its Telegram messaging channel.
It claimed that fighters had killed "at least 43" Ethiopian soldiers, but this could not be verified independently.
Residents in the area close to Halgan said the attack began when a vehicle driven by a suicide bomber exploded, after which jihadist gunmen fought their way into the base.
"There was a huge blast and then heavy exchange of gunfire started," said Osman Adan, a nearby resident.
Shabaab launched this style of "swarming" attack a year ago and have since overrun forward operating bases manned by Burundian troops in Lego in June, Ugandan troops in Janale in September and Kenyan troops in El Adde in January.
The contributing countries refuse to confirm casualty numbers but it is believed that scores of soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have been killed in each attack.
This is the first such attack on an Ethiopian outpost.
"Mujahideen fighters stormed the base and massacred many of the Ethiopians," the Shabaab statement said.
The Shabaab was forced out of the capital Mogadishu five years ago but continues to carry out regular attacks on military, government and civilian targets in its battle to overthrow the internationally-backed administration.
The group commonly steps up its attacks during Ramadan, but this year is an especially critical one with Shabaab eager to disrupt an expected change of government leadership due in the coming months.