Sunday January 5, 2020
Sunday’s Al Shabaab attack on a military base in Lamu killed three people, including a US service member and two civilian defense contractors, the American military has confirmed.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our teammates who lost their lives today,” General Stephen Townsend, the head of US Africa Command (Africom), said after jihadists from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab group stormed a base in the Lamu region, used by both Kenya and US forces.Two other Department of Defense personnel were wounded in the attack on Camp Simba, Africom added in a statement which gave no details on the identity of those killed, because the next of kin were yet to be notified.
Col Paul Njuguna, a Spokesman for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) issued a statement earlier, saying “Four terrorists’ bodies have so far been found” following the attack that occurred at 5.30am Camp Simba in Manda Bay.
But photographs circulated online showed bodies of five terrorists.
“This (Sunday) morning at around 5:30 am an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Air Strip. The attempted breach was successfully repulsed,” Col Njuguna said in a statement to newsrooms “The airstrip is safe.”
Col Njuguna did not dwell on casualties on the side of the KDF or the US forces.
Photos circulated online on Sunday morning showed thick black smoke billowing from the airstrip, in what Col Njuguna said was “fire that broke out affecting some of the fuel tanks located at the airstrip.”
Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia too confirmed “Yes there was an incident in the morning but we have been able to push them away,” he said, “However, we are not sure if there are still remnants within.”
U.S. Africa Command acknowledged “there was an attack at Manda Bay Airfield, Kenya and is monitoring the situation. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the incident.”
The Command’s US Army Maj. Gen William Gayler confirmed that there was “damage to infrastructure and equipment.”
“An accountability of personnel assessment is underway,” he said, warning “the security situation in Manda Bay is fluid.”
An Africom statement issued Sunday night said six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged in the attack. Vehicles too were damaged.
Describing Al Shabaab as a brutal terrorist organisation, Maj Gen Gayler said, “it is an al-Qaeda affiliate seeking to establish a self-governed Islamic territory in East Africa, to remove Western influence and ideals from the region, and to further its jihadist agenda. US presence in Africa is critically important to counter-terrorism efforts.”
The attack comes in the aftermath of threats for revenge on US forces or their bases around the world following the assassination of Iranian top military general Qasem Soleimani, who was taken down by US forces in Iraq, accused of orchestrating vicious attacks targetting US citizens and interests in the Middle East.
As at 9am Sunday, reports said there was active shooting in or around the camp at Manda Bay.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, saying they had “successfully stormed the heavily fortified military base and have now taken effective control of part of the base.”
Kenya’s Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai said Sunday security forces were “on high alert following the Lamu attack and urged the public to volunteer information to police to help keep the country safe.”
Al-Shabaab said the attack was part of its “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) shall never be Judaized” campaign — a term it first used during an attack on the upscale Dusit hotel complex in Nairobi in January last year that left 21 people dead.
The Somali jihadists have staged several large-scale attacks inside Kenya, in retaliation for Nairobi sending troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight the group, as well as to target foreign interests.
Despite years of costly efforts to fight Al-Shabaab, the group on December 28 managed to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives in Mogadishu, killing 81 people.
The spate of attacks highlights the group’s resilience and capacity to inflict mass casualties at home and in the region, despite losing control of major urban areas in Somalia.
Far away in Iran, AFP reported that locals were preparing to hold celebrations after Qasem’s burial, with the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declaring the military general died a Martyr “whose killing must be avenged” terming the US action “an act of war.”
But US President Donald Trump who said he ordered Soleimani’s assassination has denied he was out to start a war “but stop one.”