Nearly a year and a half of waiting with no response to “repeated” requests for information from the Defense Department is prompting lawmakers to press Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for answers to questions about the Jan. 2020 attack by al-Shabab militants in Manda Bay, Kenya, that took the lives of three Americans.
“It is simply unacceptable for the Department to withhold information from Congress about a terrorist attack that killed three American citizens,” Rep. Steven Lynch D-Mass. and Rep. Glenn Grothman R-WI of the House Oversight Committee wrote to Austin.
Congress first requested a briefing on the jihadi attack on Feb. 5, 2020, one month to the day after it occurred. However, according to lawmakers, DoD has provided no briefing and “has not provided any substantive information” regarding the attack or the “security lapses that contributed to it.”
“Congress has a solemn constitutional duty to conduct oversight of US military operations, including and especially when a terrorist attack claims the lives of American citizens overseas,” the legislators wrote.
The absence of information provided to lawmakers comes despite the DoD launching at least two investigations into the attack on Manda Bay. The Army began an investigation into the attack on Feb. 10, 2020, through U.S. Africa Command.
Although completed on Apr. 12, 2021, DoD has not provided Congress or the public with the results. Instead, DoD ordered an additional “independent review” by General Paul Funk, Commanding General of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, which is ongoing.
“This independent review will provide added insight, perspective, and the ability to assess the totality of this tragic event involving multiple Military Services and Department of Defense components,” Marine Corps Lt. Col. Anton T. Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, told Military Times.
The attack on Manda Bay, located near a Kenyan seaside resort, was carried out by an estimated 30 to 40 al-Shabab militants during the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 5, 2020. After infiltrating through the dense forest adjacent to the base, the militants opened the assault by firing a series of rocket-propelled grenades at a truck and multiple aircraft.
Around the same time, roughly a mile from the airfield, other militants opened fire on Camp Simba, which housed most U.S. forces. The attack on Camp Simba prompted Marines stationed there to respond, spearheading a counter-attack to secure the airfield, which took the rest of the day to complete.
By the end of the day, three Americans, including Army Spc. Henry Mayfield Jr., along with two DoD Contractors, lay dead. Additionally, six aircraft were destroyed.
Determining how al-Shabaab was able to execute such an attack, and preventing one in the future, remains a priority for both DoD and Congress alike. In their letter to Austin, Lynch and Grothman are asking the Army to provide their initial investigation to their sub-committee by Aug. 13. Additionally, they request that DoD give a briefing on the entire incident and investigations by Sept. 30.
Defense officials who spoke to the Military Times stressed that providing the most accurate depiction possible and steps taken to prevent similar attacks in the future are of paramount importance.
“It is the Secretary’s desire to ensure there is a full examination and consideration of the contributing factors that led to this attack and that appropriate action is taken to reduce the risk of future occurrence. The families impacted deserve nothing less,” Semelroth said.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.