To weaken the Shabab’s presence, Somali forces work alongside troops from the African Union peacekeeping operations, which include forces from Kenya, Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda and Ethiopia. Kenya, in particular, has been a frequent target of Shabab retaliatory attacks.
“Al Shabab remained intent on and capable of conducting attacks inside Kenya and along the Somalia-Kenya border, consistent with its stated intent to compel Kenyan forces to withdraw from Somalia,” an interagency inspectors general report released on Sept. 1 concluded.
Shabab militants in early 2019 assaulted a hotel-shopping complex in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 21 people, including a police officer. Six years earlier, masked gunmen stormed the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in the Kenyan capital, in a rampage that killed at least 67 people.
But the brazen assault on Jan. 5 at Manda Bay, a sleepy seaside base near the Somali border, took American and Kenyan troops by surprise. Armed with rifles and explosives, about a dozen Shabab fighters destroyed an American surveillance plane as it was taking off and ignited an hourslong gunfight.
Many of the local Kenyan forces, assigned to defend the base, hid in the grass while other American troops and support staff were corralled into tents with little protection to wait out the battle, American officials said.
The deaths of the three Americans — one Army soldier and two Pentagon contractors — were the largest number of United States military-related fatalities in Africa since four soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in October 2017.
The attack set in motion the push by the Africa Command and some Pentagon officials for the new authorities to protect the roughly 200 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, as well as about 100 Pentagon civilian employees and contractors, in Kenya helping train and assist local forces. Most of them work at Manda Bay, according to military officials.