3 Amer­i­cans killed in at­tack in Kenya

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Abdi Guled, Tom Odula and Cara Anna

Ex­trem­ists over­ran a key mil­i­tary base used by U.S. coun­tert­er­ror forces, de­stroy­ing air­craft and ve­hi­cles.

NAIROBI, Kenya — Al­Shabab ex­trem­ists over­ran a key mil­i­tary base used by U.S. coun­tert­er­ror forces in Kenya be­fore dawn Sun­day, killing three Amer­i­can Depart­ment of De­fense per­son­nel and de­stroy­ing sev­eral U.S. air­craft and ve­hi­cles be­fore they were re­pelled, U.S. and Kenyan au­thor­i­ties said.

The at­tack on the Manda Bay Air­field was the al-Qaida-linked group’s first at­tack against U.S. forces in the East African coun­try, and the mil­i­tary called the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion “fluid” sev­eral hours af­ter the as­sault.

Five at­tack­ers were killed, Kenyan mil­i­tary spokesman Paul Nju­guna said.

Al-Shabab, based in neigh­bor­ing So­ma­lia, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the as­sault.

One ser­vice­man and two Depart­ment of De­fense con­trac­tors were killed in the fight­ing, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued late Sun­day by the U.S. Africa Com­mand, or AFRICOM.

The at­tack on the com­pound “in­volved in­di­rect and small-arms fire. Af­ter an ini­tial pen­e­tra­tion of the perime­ter, Kenya De­fense Forces and U.S. Africa Com­mand re­pelled the alShabaab at­tack,“said the AFRICOM state­ment. “Re­ports in­di­cate that six con­trac­tor-op­er­ated civil­ian air­craft were dam­aged to some de­gree.”

Al-Shabab claimed 17 U.S. ca­su­al­ties, nine Kenyan sol­diers killed and seven air­craft de­stroyed. The U.S. Africa Com­mand dis­missed the claims as ex­ag­ger­ated.

Kenya is a key base for fight­ing al-Shabab, one of the world’s most re­silient ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions. A large plume of black smoke rose above the air­field Sun­day and res­i­dents said a car bomb had ex­ploded. Lamu County Com­mis­sioner Irungu Macharia told The As­so­ci­ated Press that five sus­pects were ar­rested and were be­ing in­ter­ro­gated.

An in­ter­nal Kenyan po­lice re­port seen by the AP said two fixed-wing air­craft, a U.S. Cessna and a Kenyan one, were de­stroyed along with two U.S. he­li­copters and mul­ti­ple U.S. ve­hi­cles at the Manda Bay mil­i­tary airstrip. The re­port said ex­plo­sions were heard at around 5:30 a.m. from the di­rec­tion of the airstrip. The scene, now se­cured, in­di­cated that al-Shabab likely en­tered “to con­duct tar­geted at­tacks,” the re­port said.

The U.S. mil­i­tary said only that “ini­tial re­ports re­flect dam­age to in­fra­struc­ture and equip­ment.” The Kenya Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity said the airstrip was closed for all op­er­a­tions.

The mil­i­tary’s Camp Simba in Lamu County, es­tab­lished more than a decade ago, has fewer than 100 U.S. per­son­nel, ac­cord­ing to Pen­tagon fig­ures. U.S. forces at the ad­join­ing Manda Bay air­field train and give coun­tert­er­ror sup­port to East African part­ners. A U.S. flag-rais­ing at the camp in Au­gust sig­naled its change “from tac­ti­cal to en­dur­ing op­er­a­tions,” the Air Force said at the time.

Al-Shabab has launched a num­ber of at­tacks in­side Kenya, in­clud­ing against civil­ian tar­gets such as buses, schools and shop­ping malls. The group has been the tar­get of a grow­ing num­ber of U.S. airstrikes in­side So­ma­lia dur­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The lat­est at­tack comes just over a week af­ter an al-Shabab truck bomb in So­ma­lia’s cap­i­tal killed at least 79 peo­ple and U.S. airstrikes killed seven al­Shabab fight­ers in re­sponse.

Sun­day’s at­tack marks a sig­nif­i­cant es­ca­la­tion of al­Shabab’s cam­paign of at­tacks in­side Kenya, said an­a­lyst An­drew Franklin, a for­mer U.S. Ma­rine and long­time Kenya res­i­dent.

“Launch­ing a de­lib­er­ate as­sault of this type against a well-de­fended per­ma­nent base oc­cu­pied by (Kenya De­fence Forces), con­trac­tors and U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel re­quired a great deal of plan­ning, re­hearsals, lo­gis­tics and oper­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity,” he said. Pre­vi­ous at­tacks against se­cu­rity forces have mainly been am­bushes on Kenyan army or po­lice pa­trols.

The al-Shabab claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity said Sun­day’s at­tack was part of its “Jerusalem will never be Ju­daized” cam­paign.

STAFF SGT. LEXIE WEST/U.S. AIR FORCE

Two mem­bers of the U.S. Air Force per­form flag de­tail in Au­gust at Camp Simba in Kenya. The base was the tar­get of an at­tack by ex­trem­ists on Sun­day, leav­ing three dead.

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