Flashpoints

AFRICOM airstrike takes out al-Shabab leader behind Manda Bay attack, which killed three Americans

A senior al-Shabab leader who plotted the attack against U.S. and Kenyan forces in Manda Bay, Kenya is dead — following a series of airstrikes in Somalia over the weekend, U.S. Africa Command announced Tuesday.

“Since Jan. 5, U.S. Africa Command and our partners have pursued those responsible for the attack on U.S. and Kenyan forces at Manda Bay,” AFRICOM commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement Tuesday. “This strike demonstrates that we will continue to relentlessly pursue those responsible for Manda Bay and those wishing to do harm to Americans and our African partners.”

The command said a senior leader of the violent extremist organization and his wife, also a member of al-Shabab, were both killed in precision airstrikes on Feb. 22. The command did not provide names of those killed.

Al-Shabab militants attacked Manda Bay Airfield on Jan. 5, resulting in the deaths of Army Spc. Henry Mayfield Jr., 23, and two U.S. Department of Defense contractors, Dustin Harrison, 47, and Bruce Triplett, 64.

In response, the command initiated a senior-leader-led investigation evaluating the circumstances leading up to the attack.

Although the report has not been released, multiple sources from the Marine Raider community told Marine Corps Times that approximately a dozen Marines from the 3rd Raider Battalion who were based in Camp Simba spearheaded the counterattack against the militants.

But due to the fact that Camp Simba is roughly a mile from the airfield at Manda Bay, the New York Times reported on Jan. 22 that the Marines’ response time was delayed.

AFRICOM challenged the Times’ description of the attack, noting that the Marine Raiders’ response was “timely and effective.”

Even so, Townsend said that the attack shed light on areas for improvement, and said roughly 120 infantrymen were working to secure the area and ramp up the installation’s measures of defense.

“I think it’s self-obvious we were not as prepared there at Manda Bay as we needed to be,” Townsend told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 30. “Al-Shabab managed to penetrate onto that airfield … . They were able to get access to that airfield, kill three Americans, and destroy six aircraft there. So we weren’t as prepared, and we’re digging into that to find out why that’s the case.”

During the hearing, Townsend said that having another attack similar to the one at Manda Bay was his number one fear as the commander of AFRICOM.

There are approximately 5,000 to 7,000 al-Shabab militants in Somalia. AFRICOM officials told reporters in January they believed that the al-Shabab militants originated in Somalia before receiving assistance from facilitators within Kenya and crossing into the neighboring country.

The U.S. has approximately 6,000 Department of Defense personnel in Africa. Within Somalia, the U.S. has an average of 650 to 800 U.S. forces at any given time, according to the command.

“U.S. Africa Command will continue to support our African and European partners in the fight against al-Shabaab,” Townsend said in a statement Tuesday. “It is important to impact their ability to threaten peace and security in East Africa and prevent their threats against the U.S. from being a reality.”

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