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U.S. service member, 2 contractors killed in attack on base in Kenya

By
Allen Cone
Manda Airport is a small civilian airport in the coastal region of Lamu, Kenya. The airstrip, which is controlled by Kenya Defense Forces and the U.S. military, was attacked by al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. Photo courtesy Kenya Airports Authority.
Manda Airport is a small civilian airport in the coastal region of Lamu, Kenya. The airstrip, which is controlled by Kenya Defense Forces and the U.S. military, was attacked by al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. Photo courtesy Kenya Airports Authority.

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Al-Shabab, a Somali terror group linked to al-Qaida, attacked a military base Sunday morning in Kenya, killing one U.S. service member and two Defense Department contractors, and injuring two others, U.S. African Command said.

Al-Shabab is a Sunni Muslim group and is not linked to Shiite Iran. Last Friday, a U.S. drone strike killed Iran's top military commander, and Iran has vowed to retaliate.

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Six civilian aircraft were damaged at Manda Bay Airfield, which is on an island in the coastal region of Lamu near the border with Somalia, AFRICOM said.

Initially, the U.S.-led coalition said there were no casualties in the attack but several hours later AFRICOM released an updated statement.

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The names of the dead and injured were not released.

Those injured were evacuated and are in stable condition, according to AFRICOM.

"As we honor their sacrifice, let's also harden our resolve," U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, said in a statement. "Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack and al-Shabab who seeks to harm Americans and U.S. interests. We remain committed to preventing al-Shabab from maintaining a safe haven to plan deadly attacks against the U.S. homeland, East African and international partners.

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At approximately 5:30 a.m., Kenya Defense Forces said militants attempted to breach security at the Manda Bay Airfield.

"The attempted breach was successfully repulsed. Four terrorist bodies have so far been found," the Kenyan military posted on Twitter.

U.S. Africa Command initially said the airfield has been "cleared and still in the process of being fully secured."

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"U.S. Africa Command acknowledges there was an attack at Manda Bay Airfield, Kenya and is monitoring the situation," U.S Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler said in a statement. "Al-Shabab resorts to lies, coercion, and the exertion of force to bolster their reputation to create false headlines ... It is important to counter al-Shabab where they stand to prevent the spread of this cancer."

Earlier, al-Shabab said some of its fighters had launched "a daring dawn raid on a U.S. naval base known as 'Camp Simba' in Lamu County, Kenya," according to the Tasnim News Agency in Iran.

Camp Simba is near the Manda Airstrip and it draws Western tourists.

The militants had taken control of a portion of the base and there were "severe casualties on both American and Kenyan troops stationed there," according to the group.

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AFRICOM said the group has been "exaggerating the security situation on the ground."

The number of Americans at the base wasn't given.

The base has been a site for U.S. special operations forces operating in Somalia. About 500 U.S. troops are in Somalia to assist and advise the nation's military against the terror group.

"The overarching goal in Somalia for AFRICOM is to help the federal government of Somalia provide a safe and secure environment for the people of Somalia, deter organizations such as al-Shabaab and ISIS-Somalia from expanding, and promote regional security as well as cooperation to strengthen the ability of African militaries to work together," the coalition said.

"The U.S., by virtue of our capabilities, influence and, credibility, is uniquely postured to support Somali efforts, including to help coordinate other international partner engagement."

The U.S. government designated al-Shabab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2008.

AFRICOM noted that al-Shabab killed 80 people in Mogadishu, Somalia, last week.

On Friday, a U.S. airstrike killed three militants near Bacaw, U.S. Africa Command said. No civilians were injured or killed, according to the news release.

"Al-Shabab is a brutal terrorist organization," Gayler said. "It is an al-Qaida 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. U.S. presence in Africa is critically important to counter-terrorism efforts."

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