BERLIN – US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday ordered an army review of an investigation into a militant attack on the Manda Bay military base in Kenya in January 2020 that killed three Americans and injured three others.
In a written statement announcing Austin’s decision, his press secretary, John Kirby, failed to identify what Austin felt was flawed in the initial investigation conducted by the US Africa Command. For obvious reasons, Austin plans to meet with representatives of the Africa Command in Stuttgart on Tuesday as part of a broader European tour to consult with allies and speak to US commanders. He will also meet separately with officials from the US European Command, also in Stuttgart.
“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.
NEW: @DeptofDefense withholds results of investigation into # alShabaab attack on # MandaBay airfield in #Kenya, killing 1 US soldier and 2 US contractors, pending “independent verification” by “a 4-star” -General Officer “was carried out. Https://t.co/nQLShUfcRM
– Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) April 12, 2021
Kirby said that after considering the findings of the Africa Command investigation, which were not made public, Austin decided to order the army to select a four-star general to conduct the review. The Army elected General Paul Funk, Commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command. Funk is a seasoned combat veteran who has served six missions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“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 its future occurrence,” said Kirby. “The families affected deserve nothing less.”
The attack by Al-Shabab fighters on the Manda Bay base destroyed six aircraft, killed three Americans and wounded three others.
The base in the Kenyan seaside resort was overrun by 30 to 40 of the al-Qaida-linked insurgents on January 5, 2020. This was the first attack by Al-Shabab against US forces in the East African country.
The base in Manda Bay has been used by the US military for years, but it wasn’t until 2016 that it became a full-time airfield with more personnel, aircraft, and operational capabilities.
The initial stages of the attack neared dawn when 20 to 30 al-Shabab fighters slipped through the forest and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the airfield at the base. The first rounds of grenades quickly killed one soldier in a truck, wounded another, and killed two contractors on a plane, wounding each other. About a mile down the road, other militants fired at Camp Simba, part of the base where US forces are stationed.
Camp Simba Marines initially responded to the attack site and began to fight back against the militants who had made it onto the airfield and into buildings. But it took all day before the Kenyan and US security forces finally canceled the attack, searched the airfield and secured the area.
Air Force Colonel Chris Karns, US Africa Command spokesman, said the investigation was “very rigorous,” which resulted in a number of immediate improvements. He said the goal was to reassure families and the American public “that we have done everything we can to understand the situation and take appropriate action”.
The investigation team made “findings and recommendations that are beyond the remit and effectiveness of the US Africa Command. We therefore fully support the additional independent review by the Secretary of Defense,” said Karns. “We are convinced of the results of the report and continue to advocate corrections and improvements in Kenya and across the continent.”
Kenya was an important base in the fight against al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia and is one of the most resilient extremist organizations in the world. Al-Shabab has launched a number of attacks in Kenya, including against civilian targets in buses, schools and shopping malls.
Al-Shabab had been the target of a growing number of US air strikes in Somalia during President Donald Trump’s tenure. But Trump ordered the withdrawal of some 700 American forces late last year, and most of those forces were withdrawn from the country in mid-January. According to official figures, there are currently fewer than 100 US troops in Somalia.
Austin has launched a review of America’s military stance around the world.