WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a high-level review of an initial military investigation into an attack by Islamic extremists on a Kenyan base in January 2020 that killed three Americans, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The brazen attack by about a dozen Shabab fighters in Manda Bay, a sleepy seaside base near the Somali border, marked the largest number of U.S. military-related deaths in Africa since four soldiers were ambushed in October 2017 Niger were killed.
The attack by the Shabab, the subsidiary of Al Qaeda in East Africa, revealed several obvious security flaws, a New York Times investigation found shortly after the attack, and underscored the limits of the American military on the continent, where it and Manda at Lack of intelligence Bay’s reputation as a quiet and unchallenged place allowed a deadly strike.
American commandos took about an hour to respond. Many of the local Kenyan forces deployed to defend the base hid in the grass, while other American troops and support forces with little protection were housed in tents to await the battle. It would take hours to evacuate one of the wounded to a military hospital in Djibouti about 1,000 miles away.
The military’s Africa Command conducted an investigation into the attack, which resulted in the death of a service member and two Pentagon contractors. However, the results of the investigation remained aggregated at the Pentagon for the Trump administration’s final months and were never approved or published.
Rather than accepting what investigators had found, Mr. Austin ordered the army to appoint a four-star officer outside the African chain of command to review the findings and conclusions. according to a statement that John F. Kirby, the spokesman for Mr. Austin, was released late Monday. The Army hired General Paul Funk, head of the service’s training and doctrine command, to conduct the review.
“An independent review provides additional insight, perspective and the ability to assess the entirety of this tragic event involving multiple military services and components of the Department of Defense,” said Kirby.
“It is the Secretary’s desire to ensure that the factors that led to this tragic event are fully investigated and taken into account and that appropriate measures are taken to reduce the risk of future occurrences,” added Kirby. “The families affected deserve nothing less.”
An external review of the Africa Command’s investigation could try to avoid a repetition of the Defense Ministry’s controversial investigation into the Niger attack in 2017. This report identified widespread problems at all levels of the military counter-terrorism, but focused specifically on the actions of junior officers that led to the ambush – wrongly believed by many family members, lawmakers and even then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Mr Kirby said in the statement that the Pentagon would not comment on the investigation of the Africa Command or the work of General Funk until the new review is complete.
“We will update family members affected by this tragic attack and ensure that Congress is adequately informed once the review is complete,” said Kirby, who gave no indication of when this might be the case.
The attack on January 5, 2020 killed Shabab fighters Dustin Harrison, 47 and Bruce Triplett, 64, two experienced pilots and contractors from L3 Technologies, a Pentagon contractor who is involved in conducting surveillance and reconnaissance missions on the all over the world. They rolled their Beechcraft King Air 350 on the tarmac of Manda Bay.
Army specialist Henry Mayfield Jr., 23, was in a nearby truck acting as an air traffic controller when he was killed in a subsequent shootout.
At the time, the deaths marked a grim expansion of the United States’ campaign against the Shabab – often only in Somalia, but in this case spilling over to neighboring Kenya despite an escalating American air campaign in the region.
In his final weeks in office, President Donald J. Trump ordered most of the 700 American troops in Somalia to leave the country, but not outside the region. Most armed forces have been relocated to nearby Djibouti or Kenya, including Manda Bay, now with enhanced security. The Biden government is conducting a review to see if any of these troops should be returned to Somalia.