Following review of attack that killed 3 Americans, Pentagon finds 'potential vulnerabilities' at bases in Africa

Sean D. Naylor
National Security Correspondent
A U.S. Air Force staff Sergeant at Camp Simba, Manda Bay, Kenya in 2019. (Staff Sgt. Lexie West/U.S. Air Force via AP)

WASHINGTON — A military review of security for U.S. forces deployed to Africa has found “potential vulnerabilities” in multiple locations, the head of U.S. Africa Command told reporters Thursday.

Africa Command undertook the review after al-Shabab, the Somalian militant group, attacked an airfield at Manda Bay, Kenya, on Jan. 5, killing three Americans, including one soldier and two Defense Department contractors, and destroying six aircraft.

The al-Shabab raid on the sleepy airfield, which the U.S. military has shared with Kenyan forces for many years and which is used to support operations in neighboring Somalia, shocked Africa Command.

Before the attack, the command was focused more on threats inside Somalia, Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said. “If you’d asked me before the 5th of January, was it better to be at Baledogle military airfield [in Somalia] or at Manda Bay, Kenya, I’d say absolutely Manda Bay, Kenya,” he said. “Al-Shabab has shown a capacity to project [power] in ways that we didn’t appreciate before, and we have to be ready for that now,” Townsend said.

After the attack, Africa Command reinforced defenses at Manda Bay and nearby Camp Simba, but also reviewed whether any other of the U.S. military’s outposts on the continent were similarly at risk. “We have discovered some other potential vulnerabilities, which I won’t go into at length, for obvious reasons,” Townsend told reporters after testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They weren’t of the nature that I saw at Manda Bay, but there are some similarities there, largely in places where people may not perceive a threat, the locals don’t perceive a threat, we don’t perceive a threat, that’s what has my attention.”

Townsend told the senators the possibility of “another event like a Manda Bay, an attack where we’re just not looking for it,” was his No. 1 worry.

“It’s self-obvious that we were not as prepared there at Manda Bay as we needed to be,” he said.

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