3 Americans killed in attack in Kenya
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.
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.