East Africa

‘Complacency, security gaps exposed US base to attack’


Summary

  • According to the probe by the US Department of Defence, whose report was presented to the Pentagon by the US Africa Command (Africom) Commander Gen Stephen Townsend, there were glaring gaps, including complacency on the part of the US forces, that made the facility an easy pick.
  • It also said there was a poor understanding of the base’s threat levels over time, both of which compromised the Magagoni airfield where two US contract pilots and some army personnel were killed and others, including a Kenyan ranger, wounded.
  • At the airfield, the attack claimed the lives of 23-year-old US Army soldier Specialist Henry “Mitch” Mayfield Jr, a utilities equipment repairer, and two contract pilots — Dustin Harrison and Bruce Triplett. A US contractor sustained injuries.
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By MARY WAMBUI


Little could have been done to defend the US military base in Manda Bay in Kenya in the January 5, 2020 attack given the nature of the ambush and the facility’s security arrangements, findings of an investigation released last week state.

According to the probe by the US Department of Defence, whose report was presented to the Pentagon by the US Africa Command (Africom) Commander Gen Stephen Townsend, there were glaring gaps, including complacency on the part of the US forces, that made the facility an easy pick.

It also said there was a poor understanding of the base’s threat levels over time, both of which compromised the Magagoni airfield where two US contract pilots and some army personnel were killed and others, including a Kenyan ranger, wounded.

“No one act or commission would have avoided the attack,” it says and adds that supportive response from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) helped put out the attack, including killing seven assailants.

It, however, points out shortcomings such as lack of shared intelligence and inadequate preparation for possible attacks.

The lapses

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In 2019, Africom designated the base as a force requiring advanced protection since it is in a country that has experienced previous terror attacks. This was not implemented.

Additionally, an earlier directive to the units commanders to have concertina wire around the airfield not later than January 31,2020 had not been fulfilled when the attack occurred on January 5.

This, therefore, aided the “complex” attack conducted by 30 to 40 “determined, disciplined and well resourced” al Shabaab fighters.

Investigations noted that decisive actions by both KDF and US Forces drove out al- Shabaab from the base ahead of the arrival of the East Africa Response Force (EARF) from Djibouti later that evening.

Focus is given to three KDF soldiers, who the probe found as having changed the tide of the firelight despite having had no formal force protection responsibility for the airfield.

Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Lamu, is an American facility on Kenyan soil that is manned and secured by Americans. KDF has compound adjacent to the airfield and assists in providing personnel to man the entry control points.

Two attacks

On the fateful day, the two camps were both attacked almost simultaneously. At 5.20pm the attack at the airfield began, killing three US citizens and at the same time an indirect assault on Camp Simba ensued.

Around 10 rounds of mortar were used to target Camp Simba but with no casualties.

“It is believed that the mortar attack was executed to inflict casualties on the occupants and delay US forces reaction to the airfield,” the report notes.

At the airfield, the attack claimed the lives of 23-year-old US Army soldier Specialist Henry “Mitch” Mayfield Jr, a utilities equipment repairer, and two contract pilots — Dustin Harrison and Bruce Triplett. A US contractor sustained injuries.

Mr Mayfield and the contractor who survived were in a Toyota Hilux truck clearing the runway of animals and other hazards in preparation for a flight take off.

It was a Sunday and they were both in civilian clothes when the contractor, using a handheld thermalscope, identified some images in the vegetation on the east side of the runway. His statement says he thought they were hyenas.

The assailants immediately launched two rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) at their vehicle. The first one missed by a whisker and failed to explode but the second one instantly claimed his colleague’s life.

The contractor escaped from the area on foot to the hangars.

“The heroic leadership helped neutralise the overwhelming enemy element. Without his personal initiative, the outcome would have been very different. His actions are a great demonstration of the Kenyan resolve to defeat terrorist elements in Kenya and in Eastern Africa,” it says.

The report says the attack was not defeated until after multiple clearing attempts by the combined forces.

Until 2016, CSL Manda Bay’s airfield was not a full-time operational airfield. As such, when an aircraft arrived, forces from Camp Simba would temporarily go to secure the airfield and return when the aircraft departed.

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