MOGADISHU - The militant group al Shabaab said its fighters killed dozens of Kenyan troops when they attacked a remote military base in Somalia on Friday, while Kenya's army dismissed the report and said "scores" of militants were killed.

A spokesman for al Shabaab, which often launches attacks on troops of the African Union's AMISOM force, said its fighters killed at least 66 Kenyans at the base in the southern town of Kulbiyow, near the Kenyan border.

Al Shabaab said it lost fighters but did not give numbers. Kenyan military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna denied the claim that al Shabaab had killed dozens of soldiers but did not give any casualty figures.

In a statement, he said al Shabaab attackers used a vehicle packed with explosives to try to blast their way into the camp of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). "KDF soldiers repulsed the terrorists, killing scores," he said. Njuguna said the attack was launched around dawn on Friday.

In January 2016, al Shabaab said it had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in El Adde, a Somali camp near the border with Kenya. The military never gave details of casualties, but Kenya media reports suggested a toll of that magnitude.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military operation spokesman, had told Reuters al Shabaab fighters rammed two suicide car bombs into the base and seized it. "We are pursuing the Kenyan soldiers who ran away into the woods," he said.

Al Shabaab, whose assessment of casualties often differs markedly from official versions, typically rams the entrance to a target site with a car or truck bomb so fighters can storm in.

The militant group, which once ruled much of Somalia, wants to topple the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and drive out the peacekeeping force made up of soldiers from Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda, Ethiopia and other African countries.

Al Shabaab has been fighting for years to impose its own interpretation of Islam on Somalia.

African Union and Somali troops have driven its fighters from major urban strongholds and ports, including the capital Mogadishu in 2011, but they have often struggled to defend smaller, more remote areas from attacks. "Fighters have taken control of the base and the overall Kolbiyow area after massacring the Kenyan infidels," the statement said.

Shabaab frequently overstates the death toll from its attacks while Kenya commonly underplays its losses.

In January last year a Kenyan base at El-Adde was attacked and overrun by Shabaab fighters who claimed to have killed over 100 Kenyan soldiers. The government refused to give its own toll.

The Shabaab, which once controlled much of Somalia, is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.

It launches regular attacks on government, military and civilian targets and has carried out a series of deadly assaults against foreign soldiers deployed in Somalia. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is a 22,000-strong force comprising soldiers from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Over the last two years Shabaab has rampaged through bases manned by Burundian soldiers in Lego, Ugandan troops in Janale and the Kenyans in El-Adde, inflicting high casualties and stealing military equipment each time.

The Kolbiyow raid is the second major attack this week in Somalia, coming three days after 28 people were killed when Shabaab bombers and fighters attacked a hotel in the capital.

Somalia is due to hold a presidential vote in early February, signalling the end of a drawn-out electoral process in which a new parliament has also been selected.

Political infighting and ongoing insecurity scuppered plans for a universal vote in 2016, with lawmakers elected by specially selected delegates.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre's military regime, which ushered in more than two decades of anarchy and conflict in a country deeply divided along clan lines.