Poor attention to base security left U.S. troops in Kenya vulnerable when the militant group al-Shabaab attacked, killing three Americans and destroying six aircraft, Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said Thursday.
"I think it's self-obvious we were not as prepared there at Manda Bay as we needed to be," said Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command.
On Jan. 5, the Somalia-based fighters managed to maneuver to their target about 150 miles south of the Kenya-Somalia border and "penetrate onto that airfield," Townsend said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
The attack killed Army Spc. Henry "Mitch" Mayfield, Jr., 23, of Hazel Crest, Ill., and two Defense Department contractors: pilots Dustin Harrison, 47, and Bruce Triplett, 64.
Mayfield was assigned to1st Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment, 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group, out of Fort Rucker, Alabama, and was supporting Operation Octave Shield, the U.S. mission to assist African forces in the fight against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab.
In the attack on Manda Bay airfield, near a resort town on the Kenya coast, al-Shabaab fighters using mortars and small arms "were able to get access, kill three Americans and destroy six aircraft. We are digging into that to find out why that is the case," Townsend said.
A variety of aircraft fly out of Manda Bay, but the U.S. military has not identified the types of aircraft that Townsend said were destroyed.
Townsend an investigation into the incident was ongoing, leaving open the possibility that the lack of adequate defenses could lead to disciplinary action.
"Al-Shabaab has shown their reach," Townsend said, "and the danger that they pose" to the U.S. mission in East Africa. "I think we need to take that serious. I am looking with a clear eye at every location in Africa now."
The mistake at Manda Bay may have been in underestimating al-Shabaab and thinking that the airfield was in a relatively safe location, Townsend said.
"It's a resort area," Townsend said. "We viewed it, and the Kenyans viewed it, as a safe area."
AFRICOM has deployed an East Africa Response Force of about 120 troops to Manda Bay since the attack to bolster defenses, Townend said.
He said the troops were "putting in the appropriate level of defenses. I'm confident that by the time they're done, Manda Bay will be much more properly defended."
The base is home to the 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron and also serves as a training site for Kenyan forces.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.