Al-Shabab extremists overran a key military base used by U.S. counterterror forces in Kenya before dawn Sunday, killing three American Department of Defense personnel and destroying several U.S. aircraft and vehicles before they were repelled, U.S. and Kenyan authorities said.
The attack on the Manda Bay Airfield was the al-Qaida-linked group’s first attack against U.S. forces in the East African country, and the military called the security situation “fluid” several hours after the assault.
Five attackers were killed, Kenyan military spokesman Paul Njuguna said. Al-Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia, claimed responsibility for the assault.
One U.S. serviceman and two contractors with the U.S. Department of Defense were killed in the fighting, according to a statement issued late Sunday by the U.S. Africa Command, or Africom.
The attack on the compound “involved indirect and small arms fire. After an initial penetration of the perimeter, Kenya Defense Forces and U.S. Africa Command repelled the al-Shabaab attack,” said the AFRICOM statement.
“Reports indicate that six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to some degree. Manda Bay Airfield is utilized by U.S. forces whose missions include providing training to our African partners, responding to crises, and protecting U.S. interests in this strategically important area.”
Al-Shabab claimed that there were 17 U.S. casualties, nine Kenyan soldiers killed and seven aircraft destroyed. The U.S. Africa Command dismissed the al-Shabab claims as exaggerated and said U.S. and Kenyan forces repelled the attack.
Kenya is a key base for fighting al-Shabab, one of the world’s most resilient extremist organizations. A large plume of black smoke rose above the airfield Sunday and residents said a car bomb had exploded. Lamu county commissioner Irungu Macharia told The Associated Press that five suspects were arrested and were being interrogated.
An internal Kenyan police report seen by the AP said two fixed-wing aircraft, a U.S. Cessna and a Kenyan one, were destroyed along with two U.S. helicopters and multiple U.S. vehicles at the military airstrip. The report said explosions were heard at around 5:30 a.m. from the direction of the airstrip.