U.S. military investigation finds extensive failures before deadly terror attack in Kenya

An “inadequate focus on potential threats,” “complacent leadership” and “poor oversight” all were contributing factors in the January 2020 attack by fighters linked to al-Qaeda that left three Americans dead at a base in Kenya, according to U.S. military investigators, but it remains unclear what disciplinary action the “negligent” parties may face.

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U.S. military investigation finds extensive failures before deadly terror attack in Kenya

An investigation by U.S. Africa Command and a subsequent independent review blamed the fatalities at Manda Bay on about 30 to 40 “determined, disciplined and well-sourced” al-Shabab militants who staged the attack, officials said Thursday. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, who leads U.S. Africa Command, called al-Shabab “the most lethal arm of al-Qaeda.”

According to investigators, the deadly assault consisted of two attacks on the seaside base near Kenya’s border with Somalia. Investigators determined that one, in which 10 mortar rounds were fired at Camp Simba, was intended to distract troops from responding to the main assault on Manda Bay’s airfield.

Investigators described how, in the predawn hours, Army Spec. Henry J. Mayfield Jr. and a colleague were clearing the runway, when they detected thermal images of what appeared to be hyenas, realizing too late that what they spotted were al-Shabab fighters hiding. Mayfield was killed after a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle. Defense contractors Bruce Triplett, 64 and Dustin Harrison, 47, who were piloting an aircraft, were killed after militants attacked their plane, which caught fire.

The attack, which left other Americans injured and several aircraft destroyed, was the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Africa since the October 2017 ambush in Niger, in which four soldiers were killed. But the incident was largely eclipsed by the U.S. strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, which occurred two days before the assault on Manda Bay.

U.S. Africa Command completed its investigation into the attack in April 2021. But instead of releasing its findings, the Pentagon commissioned an independent review, led by Gen. Paul Funk, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Funk said Thursday that he concurred with the findings reached by U.S. Africa Command, and that “no single point of failure directly caused the loss of life and damage to the property at Manda Bay.”

While Funk said he “was able to identify multiple personnel who I deemed negligent in their actions or inactions which contributed to creating a vulnerable airfield,” he did not detail what disciplinary recommendations he had made to the Air Force. Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said all disciplinary actions taken were “administrative.”

In the case of previous military disasters that included loss of life, lawmakers have intervened to block promotions when they did not think the Pentagon had done an adequate job in holding military leaders accountable. Members of Congress had previously expressed frustration at the slow pace of disclosures from the Pentagon, despite their repeated attempts at oversight.

For instance, the Army’s investigation of the ambush in Niger initially placed blame on soldiers on the ground, even though military officials acknowledged that commanders had sent them on a mission without adequate backup or aerial surveillance. Under scrutiny from Capitol Hill, the Army eventually withdrew a nomination for Col. Bradley Moses, commander of the 3rd Special Forces Group at the time of the attack, who had been in line for a promotion to general officer.

The case in Manda Bay has some parallels to a 2012 attack by the Taliban on Camp Bastion, an airfield in southern Afghanistan. Militants sneaked onto a base undetected there and destroyed numerous aircraft with rocket-propelled grenades, prompting a battle that left two Marines dead.

The top Marine Corps officer at the time, Gen. James F. Amos, found that subordinate Marine generals in Afghanistan had not taken adequate steps to safeguard the base and asked two of them, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, to retire.

In the meantime, the incident at Manda Bay has prompted U.S. Africa Command to implement improvements to the physical defenses at its installations, increase the number of security forces and enhance intelligence sharing. It also is requiring leaders to do more site visits and security inspections, and employing more mobile surgical teams around the region.

Washington Post

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