AFRICOM airstrike kills key planner of attack on US forces in Kenya

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 25, 2020

STUTTGART, Germany— A U.S. airstrike has killed a key planner in January’s deadly attack on U.S. forces in Kenya, where three Americans were killed after al-Qaida-connected militants stormed a local base, U.S. Africa Command said Tuesday.

A post-strike assessment confirmed a Saturday strike in Somalia killed two terrorists—a husband and wife-- who were members of al-Shabab, AFRICOM said.

The husband was a senior leader of the group in charge of planning and directing terrorist operations on the Kenya border region, including the recent attack on the Manda Bay Airfield, AFRICOM said.

AFRICOM described the wife as a “witting and active member” of the group and responsible “for facilitating a wide range of terrorist activities.” AFRICOM did not name the two terrorists.

“This strike demonstrates that we will continue to relentlessly pursue those responsible for Manda Bay and those wishing to do harm to Americans and our African partners,” said Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM.

An investigation is underway into events surrounding the Jan. 5 attack at Manda Bay Airfield in coastal Kenya. Immediately after the attack, AFRICOM sent in reinforcements to secure the compound, raising questions about whether U.S. troops were over exposed.

The United States has a small military presence in Kenya — about 300 personnel in all. The facility at Manda Bay plays a role in supporting U.S. operations in neighboring Somalia.

Al-Shabab is perhaps the most formidable of al-Qaida’s affiliates. But while the group has expressed ambitions of striking out at the United States, it hasn’t demonstrated the capability to do so yet. So far, its operations have mostly occurred inside Somalia and occasionally in neighboring states such as Kenya.

Military officials have said the group could develop into a more significant threat to the West if pressure is lifted. AFRICOM has ramped up airstrikes against the group during the past few years, conducting a record 63 strikes in Somalia in 2019.

“It is important to impact their ability to threaten peace and security in East Africa and prevent their threats against the U.S. from being a reality,” Townsend said.

Twitter: @john_vandiver

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