In the predawn hours, the militants of al–Shabab attacked the peacekeepers’ base from every direction with lethal precision.
Suicide bombers detonated three cars filled with explosives. Islamist fighters then pounded the facility with heavy gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, killing several dozen African Union peacekeepers from Burundi. Footage posted on social media showed bodies in military uniforms scattered around the base.
“The Burundians were caught unaware,” said Sadaq Mokhtar Abdulle, a Somali Parliament member representing the village of El Baraf, where the base was located. “They were killed in cold blood. And the others fled.”
The May 2 assault claimed more than 50 lives, according to local officials and Western security personnel in Somalia, making it the deadliest strike on the U.S.-backed peacekeeping mission here in six years. Its success underscored the resurgence of al-Shabab and the challenges that African and American troops will face in containing the group.
Two weeks later, President Biden approved the redeployment of some 450 American troops to Somalia — reversing a 2020 order by the Trump administration to end U.S. counterterrorism operations in the country after more than a decade.
The militants now control roughly 70 percent of south and central Somalia, a country nearly the size of Texas. While the fragile government rules Mogadishu and provincial capitals, al-Shabab and its 5,000 to 7,000 fighters oversee much of the countryside.
“We’ve seen an expansion of their territory,” said Samira Gaid, executive director of the Hiraal Institute, a think tank focusing on Somalia and the Horn of Africa. “We are seeing them be more audacious.”