Islamic insurgent group al-Shabaab stormed an army base in south-western Somalia early on Friday, killing "several" soldiers, a security official said.

The attack in the village of El-Adde in the Gedo region of Somalia started with a suicide car bombing at the entrance of the base, a senior Somali commander, Colonel Aden Ahmed Hersi, told dpa.

Hundreds of armed insurgents then stormed the base from two different directions. There are conflicting reports of the number of deaths.

"I do not have the exact number of the killed or wounded Kenyan soldiers but I was told that more than 15 Kenyans were killed in the attack," Hersi said.

"As of now, we also have reports that more than 10 Islamist fighters were killed."

Al-Shabaab fighters looted military hardware after taking control of the base from the Kenyan soldiers, the commander said.

Witnesses said explosions and gunfire continued through much of the morning Friday.

Helicopters were seen flying at a low distance to help African Union (AU) soldiers in the area.

"A huge blast was heard followed by a black smoke around AU military base in our village El-Adde this morning," a local elder, Abdullahi Hashi, told dpa.

Al-Shabaab fighters, including some wearing suicide vests, attacked the base with rocket-propelled grenades, another Somali government official, Diyad Abdi Kalil, told dpa.

"We heard a loud explosion and a huge gunfire that lasted several hours this morning," he said.

Al-Shabaab put the number of the soldiers killed at 63.

Several fighters armed with heavy weapons entered the base after the suicide bombing, said spokesman Sheikh Abu Mus’ab, speaking to pro-insurgent radio Andalus.

"We have destroyed military vehicles, confiscated weapons and ammunition from the Kenyan infidels in El-ade" said the al-Shabaab spokesman.

A senior AU official in Mogadishu, who asked not to be named, said the insurgents are exaggerating about the death toll.

"We have to wait until we get verified details on what has happened," the official said.

Kenyan military officials in the region could not be reached for comments.

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