Reuters International

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Al Shabaab insurgents attacked a Somali military base on Tuesday and killed five soldiers in two hours of fierce fighting near the northwestern town of Baidoa, a military officer said.

"Al Shabaab militants attacked early in the morning. Five soldiers died and 12 others were wounded," captain Aden Nur told Reuters from Baidoa. Six al Shabaab fighters were killed, he added.

Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group's military operations spokesman, said it had ambushed a truck carrying troops to reinforce the base, killed 11 soldiers and seized seven guns. "We exploded the truck using a planted bomb and then ambushed," he told Reuters.

It was not possible to verify the death toll independently. Al Shabaab has inflated casualty figures in the past.

The Islamist group, which wants to topple Somalia's Western-backed government, carries out frequent attacks on military targets and civilian facilities like hotels and restaurants, mostly in the capital Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab, which has links to al Qaeda was behind an attack in January on a base for Kenyan troops working with an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. The group said it killed more than 100 soldiers, but Kenyan officials have not yet revealed the death toll.

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Mark Trevelyan)

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 Reuters International