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Dozens of African Union soldiers are feared dead after al-Shabab militants attacked an AU base in the southern Somalia town of Leego Friday.

Witnesses said attackers rammed a car filled with explosives into the main gate, then engaged in a fierce gun battle with Burundian troops manning the base.

Fighting at the base continued for several hours after the initial attack.

An al-Shabab spokesman said the group has killed more than 50 AU soldiers.

The governor of the Lower Shabelle region, Abdikadir Mohamed Nur Siidi, confirmed that AU forces suffered significant casualties.

The governor, speaking to VOA's Somali Service, said dozens of al-Shabab fighters were also killed.

He said the attackers included 15 suicide bombers who blew themselves up.

Mohammed Haji, an official in the Lower Shabelle region, said, “They managed to infiltrate the entrance after the blast – it was a complex attack."

Burundi, Uganda troops

Troops from Uganda and Burundi make up the bulk of the African Union force that has battled al-Shabab in Somalia since 2007.

Somali and AU troops have pushed the al-Qaida-linked militants out of Somalia's major cities, but the group still controls rural areas and continues to launch major attacks.

In April, al-Shabab fighters stormed Garissa University College in Kenya, killing 148 people.

This was the latest of several reported al-Shabab attacks since the start of the holy month of Ramadan last week.

Leego is a town about 130 kilometers south of Mogadishu, and sits along the main road connecting the capital to the city of Baidoa.

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