US troops in Kenya were hit hard and fast by terrorist militants who broke into a frail base
- Around a dozen al-Shabab militants launched a surprise attack on a Kenyan military base containing US forces earlier in January, according The New York Times.
- It killed two civilian contractors and a US Army soldier, the outlet said.
- The attack was largely overlooked as tensions between the US and Iran flared in the Middle East.
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Around a dozen al-Shabab militants launched a surprise attack against a Kenyan military base housing US forces earlier in January, according to new details in a New York Times report published Wednesday.
The attack killed two civilian contractors and a US Army soldier, the Times said.
In fighting that lasted several hours, the militants successfully infiltrated the Manda Bay, Kenya, near the Kenya-Somalia border, on January 5. US forces and Kenyan Rangers were stationed at the base to conduct training and surveillance operations against the terrorist group.
It is unclear how the militants made their way into the base, which was guarded by local Kenyan forces and a fence line.
Some of the Kenyan troops whose job was to defend the base are thought to have hidden in the grass during the attack, The Times reported.
Once the militants made their way inside, two Defense Department contractor pilots who were taxiing their aircraft on the tarmac initially took them for animals on the runaway, according to The Times.
The militants then fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the aircraft, killing pilots Dustin Harrison and Bruce Triplett.
The fighters also struck at other nearby aircraft and an fuel storage area, The Times reported, causing damages estimated to have cost millions of dollars.
US Army Spc. Henry Mayfield, who was in a truck at the time, was also killed. Two US service members were wounded. One contractor who received burns in the initial assault was flown to a military hospital in Djibouti, a 1,500 mile flight that took eight hours.
Five militants were killed, US and Kenyan officials said after the attack.
US Marines eventually repelled the attack, but not until they arrived around an hour later due to their remote location, The Times reported.
The attack was largely overlooked as tensions between the US and Iran flared in the Middle East.
Two days prior to the al-Shabab assault, a US drone launched a missile at Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killing both.
Five days after the missile strike, Iran's military launched a barrage of missiles at a US-occupied military base in Iraq.
Despite the recent armed conflict in Kenya, military officials have doubled down on their decision to consider shifting their forces away from Africa and to focus more broadly on Chinese and Russian aggression.
The potential withdrawal, which US military officials stressed had not been finalised, has many analysts and lawmakers worried. Al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda whose goal is to establish an Islamic state for Somalia, remains pervasive despite the presence of US troops.
"Militant Islamist groups in Africa set a record pace of activity in 2019, reflecting a doubling of militant Islamist activity from 2013," the Africa Center for Strategic Studies said in an analysis.
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