On the morning of 8 June, Al-Shabaab militants attacked a military base at Af Urur in Bari Region in the semi-autonomous Puntland State. Local officials claimed that the militants killed around 38 people, mostly soldiers. Al-Shabaab claimed that it overran the base and town, killing over 60 people, and seizing or destroying arms and vehicles belonging to Puntland security forces.
Notably, recent attacks in the region have been attributed to an IS-affiliated group, rather than the core al-Shabaab group, which has pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda. It can be speculated that this attack might have been partly inspired by a desire to stamp al-Shabaab’s authority on the region, as the group has violently opposed any expansion of IS-affiliates in the country.
Details about the attack remain unclear and unconfirmed. In an all too familiar response, the Puntland Minister for Security, denied claims that Puntland forces had lost control of the area. Meanwhile, local media sources posted imagery purportedly showing dead Puntland security forces at Af-Urur, or though the location and dates of the imagery remain unverified.
Some local sources claimed that 150 to 200 al-Shabab militants were involved in the attack on the camp. Puntland State Officials have suggested that the base defenders might have been betrayed by a group 30-40 defectors and clan militia members who had been integrated into the base defences. It is possible that al-Shabaab will publish imagery from the attack in the future, as it has done in other prominent attacks.
On 9 June, Puntland Security Force personnel from Bosaso claimed to have regained control of the town and base after al-Shabaab militants withdrew to the Galgala mountains.
A notable feature of early reports on the attack is the level of vagueness about where exactly Af Urur is. Initial reports referenced the town as being, variously, on the outskirts of Bosaso, or at distances of 40, 60, 70 and 100km to the south or west of Bosaso.
After a bit of digging around online – and then some geolocation – I believe that Af Arur is actually here:
(Af Urur, ~56km south-west of Bosaso)
(Af Urur town, dated March 2017)
The obvious starting point for this investigation was to have a local source point the town out on a map. Funnily enough, even local sources didn’t appear to be sure. Turning to the Internet, several potential locations were listed on mapping services, although the town itself did not appear on any Google Maps or Bing Maps searches. GlobalMaps, a mapping aggregator, did however show Af Urur at one promising location. It was then necessary to verify that location.
Luckily, the Puntland State security forces’ Twitter account had posted some images, showing aid deliveries to the town in March 2017 (note the prominent green roof building). This was a starting point.
The Raadreeb online news service ran a story in October 2016 about local government, focused on Af Urur. The article featured several images of the town, including the same green roofed building seen in the Puntland Security Forces tweet. It is now possible to see that the building is in a walled compound. Image 2 shows some low hills behind the compound. Image three shows a radio tower to the side of the compound. Image 4 shows the town in the foreground, with the compound, green roofed building, hills, and radio tower in the background.
Turning to Terraserver for the most recent (March 2017) satellite imagery of the site shows the same combination of green roofed building (in a walled compound) with hills to the east, and a radio mast to the south east:
These reference points appear to suggest that this is indeed Af Urur town, the location of the 8 June attack. Absent from the imagery are any likely military bases or installations within the town.
Comparing old satellite imagery of the site suggests little has changed in terms of the town itself over the past decade. However, new dirt roads appeared on the hills to the east of the radio tower during the course of 2015, and a semblance of a perimeter and small structure appeared in 2016. This might plausibly be the location of a military outpost of some description. It should however be noted that in March 2015, humanitarian aid agencies noted several hundred people had fled into the area, including Af Urur town, to escape al-Shabaab activities. The buildup on the hill could be related to those IDPs.
[Update 21 June] On around the 16th of June, al-Kataib – the media arm of al-Shabaab, released imagery showing the attack. In the stills below, small orange tarpaulin-covered scrapes can be seen – which appear to be a close match to the orange structure seen in the satellite imagery of the hilltop. In the second image below, which shows two militants carrying off an interesting looking machine gun (the subject of an upcoming post), a small settlement can be seen in the background, along with a radio tower partially obscured by the downward slope of the ridge. This is not a 100% verification, but it does appear close enough to confidently suggest a match with the Af Urur candidate location.
An al-Shabaab militant raises a flag while looting the outpost
Militants carrying away weapons seized from the outpost. Note the radio tower on the left, the partially obscured buildings just over the ridge, and a small cluster of buildings in the distance. It is also worth noting the shadows in the foreground. This was a morning attack, which means the camera is pointing roughly west.
The likely approximate position and direction of the camera for the previous image.