In the middle of 2015, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, best known as al-Shabaab, was about to unleash several noteworthy and significant attacks on AMISOM forces across Somalia. Three such attacks between June 2015 and January 2016 involved large-scale assaults that overran AMISOM bases at Leego, Janaale, and El Adde. In each case, the militant group released substantial propaganda videos through its media arm, Al Kataib, showing the attacks and their aftermath. Other videos were also released showing ambushes conducted against AMISOM peacekeepers in this same period. The focus of this post is on a particular video released in July 2015, which detailed the ambush of Burundian peacekeepers somewhere near Leego. The attack probably took place sometime in June – before the base itself was attacked. This video illustrates al-Shabaab’s strategic ability to disrupt AMISOM supply lines – a factor highlighted in analyses of the subsequent AMISOM base attacks. The particular video is also noteworthy for some bizarre scenes involving militants firing at clearly visible and seemingly stunned peacekeepers.
Several caveats apply here. The scene-by-scene analysis that follows is not intended to be purely an exercise in “armchair general/operator” criticism of improper firing stances, weird weapon usage, or janky equipment. Where such observations are made, they should be considered in a broader context, assessing levels of training, command, supply etc. We’re not particularly interested here in the non-combat elements of these videos, and do not wish to engage in even accidental publication or reproduction of propaganda statements. Furthermore, ADR does not consider itself equipped with the language skills or depth of ideological knowledge to properly address those aspects of such videos. There are far more qualified efforts to examine these details available elsewhere.
A final caveat: video releases of this sort are approached from a guarded position that acknowledges that these are fundamentally propaganda releases. They show what the various actors involved want us to see. Some elements may be faked for the camera, others are carefully cut or edited to portray potentially vastly different realities. This fact does not disqualify such videos entirely from being potentially valuable sources of information for assessment, but that process should be undertaken with a deeply sceptical mindset.
The video opens with a montage of IED attacks on assorted vehicles conducted at various and unknown times. Here, in one instance, a SADF-era Samil 50 ‘Kwevoel’ is seen just before being destroyed by a large IED.
In another sequence in the opening montage, a tip truck is shown, which might be an AU/AMISOM vehicle judging from the white paint, having just struck an IED. The driver, who appears disoriented and/or injured crawls out the window and lies down behind the vehicle, as an AMISOM REVA APC drives up.
Following on from the montage of IED strikes, the full-length version of the video launches into some propaganda statements before beginning a briefing on the centerpiece attack sequence. During this briefing phase, overlaid graphics describe the target convoy, consisting of three MRAPs, a water bowser and another cargo vehicle. It is worth noting that there is no particular reason to believe that these briefings actually occurred *before* the attack itself. They could just as well have been filmed afterwards, to give the impression of coordination and intelligence. Relatedly, the cast of militants being briefed do not resemble the men who actually participate in the attack.
The plan appears to call for the use of IEDs and small arms against the convoy. The graphic overlay would suggest that the ambushing forces are positioned along a stretch of the Baidoa to Mogadishu road. The exact location is unclear, but my suspicion is that this attack took place roughly between Leego and Wanlaweyn, both garrisoned by AMISOM forces. Assuming the route and direction of travel is accurate, the ambushing forces are later shown to actually attack from the southern side of the road, not the north as suggested in the briefing.
The briefing sequence continues with sandpit models. Of interest, the ‘bases’ marked on the map are identifiable from the sand berms built around them. The AMISOM base at Leego, to the West, is identifiable for the sticks approximating the radio towers that characterise the base.
During the combat phase of the video, an interesting weapon makes an appearance: a shoulder fired recoilless rifle.My suspicion here is that this is an 82mm Soviet-era B10 variant. I’ll be putting together a more in-depth exploration of this little mystery in a followup post.
As the recoilless rifle gunner runs out of camera shot, a pillar of dust can be seen rising behind a stand of trees directly ahead of the camera, not in the direction the weapon was fired. It is unclear what caused that explosion, presumably an IED or other heavy weapons fire.
After firing the recoilless rifle, a militant wielding an RPG-7 takes his place while a second RPG-7 gunner waits his turn. In the foreground, a commander of sorts, wearing a green shirt and carrying a walkie-talkie, coordinates what might roughly be called the fire support team. Next to him, a man carries an 82mm round to reload the recoilless rifle.
A militant carrying what appears to be a PK light machine gun crab-walks forward, firing at an unseen target. While he is firing the weapon from the hip, it is worth noting he only ever seems to fire in short or relatively short bursts. This may be a practical necessity to preserve barrels or ammunition. Incidentally, he has belts of ammunition wrapped across himself.
A somewhat unclear shot shows the top of a vehicle just barely visible in the tree line. The engagement distances here are short, with little in the way of solid cover between the militants and the AMISOM peacekeepers.
The loader/assistance gunner/guy next in line, seen earlier with spare ammunition (note red headband) takes a turn firing the recoilless rifle. These stills provide better views of the breech and pistol grip of the weapon, as he runs back, apparently celebrating a hit.
Three men with AK-variant weapons fire from relative cover near an ant hill into the brush, presumably toward the road. Note the intricately handmade leather magazine pouches.
The militant with criss-crossed ammunition belts opens fire again toward the road, with the white vehicle again, just barely visible through the brush. Interestingly, the way the video is cut, a tan-painted MRAP is next seen driving along the road, while similar machine-gun fire continues. Taken at face value, this would suggest that, at this point, that MRAP or perhaps other MRAPs arrived on the scene, or moved forward, although it should again be noted that the video has been cut and edited, and might not accurately reflect the order of events.
In a somewhat abrupt cut from one camera to the other, another militant, seen earlier coaxing the recoilless rifle gunner into a better firing position, fires an RPG at something, and then celebrates.
Things become tactically interesting, if not downright bizarre, from this point on. A militant, closely followed by the camera, breaks from the brushline, onto the road. He then looks to his right, which the camera then shows to be the rear of two MRAPs and several clustered AMISOM soldiers. It appears that he is now behind the bulk of the convoy.
At a distance of somewhere between 50m and 100m, the militant opens fire.
As other militants also reach the road, they also open fire on the now clearly visible AMISOM soldiers, who do not appear to react. It is worth noting the splash of muddy water in the foreground as a militant somehow manages to hit the ground within 10m.
Bizarrely, the AMISOM soldiers, though now looking in the direction of the militants, slowly walk either to the side of the road to the peripheral bushes, or make their way forward to the vehicles. There is still no sign of communication or sense of urgency, let alone return fire from the peacekeepers.
One of the PK machine gunners reaches the road and begins firing short bursts toward the vehicles. He again does not use his sights, nor does he sprawl out to make use of the bipod.
A downed AMISOM soldier, who was visible since the cameraman reached the road, can be more clearly seen here. So too are other AMISOM soldiers, seemingly sheltering near the vehicles, but appearing unsure of where to be facing. This could be indicative of receiving simultaneous fire from other directions. The rear MRAP does not appear to have weapons mounted in the two shielded turrets.
More militants line up across the road to shoot at the AMISOM vehicles. The lack of return fire remains conspicuous here. The militant with the red headband second from left racks the bolt of his weapon, either forgetting a round was already chambered, or more likely, clearing a fired cartridge that did not extract. The man to the far left, firing his PK, manages to hit a puddle about 5 meters down the road (splash visible).
More bizarre scenes: red headband militant kneels down while the PK gunner finally decides to drop into a semi-prone position to fire, albeit only briefly. Meanwhile, the man in the green shirt seen earlier in a commander-like role prevents an RPG gunner from firing at the cluster of vehicles, for unknown reasons.
In a quick cut to the second camerman’s viewpoint, militants are seen around an abandoned water bowser that is leaking water and has bullet holes in the windshield. It is otherwise undamaged.
In a panning shot, the water bowser can be seen on the left while a militant on the right of the image fires his weapon down the road.
As the second cameraman reaches the road the earlier firing line of militants can be seen (note green shirt commander) and in the distance, the cluster of AMISOM vehicles. It appears then that the bowser was separated from the convoy.
As the camera zooms in, the green shirted man can be seen communicating with the other militants, while the AMISOM forces are clearly visible in the background. The soldier on the left of the still later points at the militants.
Presumably cutting back to the first cameraman, a pair of militants fire PK machine guns from the hip at the AMISOM vehicles (two MRAPs and a cargo vehicle). The PK gunner on the left manages to hit the stone culvert on the right of the road with one of his shots (dust visible).
A split screen showing the two cameramen’s perspectives, looking down the road at the AMISOM vehicles.
The AMISOM vehicles begin to move off, with some peacekeepers trailing on foot. The rearmost MRAP has a damaged front right tire and is tracking to the right. Soldiers are visible looking back from the top turrets of the vehicle, but do not appear to be firing. Just visible in the right foreground of this still is an AMISOM peacekeeper, who appears to have been left behind.
Militants continue to fire at the departing AMISOM vehicles while the stranded peacekeeper can still be seen on the edge of the road near a body.
Having driven off the vehicles on the road, the militants next appear to rally toward a remaining AMISOM MRAP that was not previously shown, and is sitting off the road.
In another bizarre moment, the green shirt commander-figure earlier seen directing the firing down the road is shown walking down a track, without weapon, radio or webbing gear. He is then fired on, apparently from ahead, and appears to take at least one hit to the leg or foot while other militants scatter. He is not seen again in the video.
Militants crouch in cover and tend the wounds of the man in the centre of the shot before moving off again.
The recoilless rifle is brought out again and fired, striking something, presumably the MRAP, on the left of the image which gives off a cloud of black smoke.
The militants cautiously approach the now silent MRAP.
Again, in split screen showing the two camera’s perspectives, the militants approach the MRAP and fire on its incapacitated occupants. This sequence might have been entirely for the sake of camera.
A still image showing the damage to the MRAP, a Casspir, marked number 2121. It might be speculated that the large hole is from the 82mm recoilless rifle. Toward the front, another heavy round has struck, possibly an RPG. Both right side wheels are flat.
This final sequence suggests several possible narratives. The disabled MRAP might have been the first vehicle targeted in the video, sustaining hits from the recoilless rifle and RPGs and causing the other vehicles to stop and cluster up. One the rest of the convoy was driven off, the green shirted militant was perhaps attempting to communicate with the occupants of the remaining, disabled MRAP, but was fired on. The militants then hit the MRAP again with their heavy weapons to eliminate the last surviving peacekeepers.
The video closes with gruesome images of the bodies of at least two peacekeepers being removed from the MRAP, other bodies from the road being collected and displayed, and the abandoned water bowser and MRAP being set alight.
In Part Two of this analysis, I’ll dive a little deeper of some of the peculiarities of this firefight, and will also start to flesh out some of the strategic aspects of al-Shabaab’s ability to interdict AMISOM convoys in this manner, and the role that played in the multiple base-attacks that occurred in 2015 and into 2016. The videos of those attacks will, in turn, be analysed in followup posts.