Pentagon investigations revealed on Thursday that negligence, poor leadership and a ‘culture of complacency’ all undermined efforts to fight off a 2020 attack by Somali militants that killed three Americans at a military base in Kenya.
Although the probes blamed al-Shabab militants for the deaths, they delivered a scathing account of failures at the Manda Bay air base.
Army Spc. Henry Mayfield Jr., 23, defense contractors Bruce Triplett, 64, and Dustin Harrison, 47, were killed in the dawn raid – the first time the jihadist group is known to have targeted U.S. forces in Kenya.
Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command, which carried out the first review, listed his findings during a Pentagon briefing.
‘First, inadequate focus on potential threats and force protection at multiple levels,’ he told reporters.
‘For a number of successive years, there was complacent leadership and command and control at the tactical level and poor oversight at the operational level.’
The reviews found fault at all levels of leadership, from special operations commanders to U.S. Africa Command.
They concluded there was an inadequate understanding of the threats in the region.
Manda Bay sits in an island archipelago close to the border with Somalia. Kenyan defense forces have used the base as a launch pad for operations against Somali terrorists.
On Jan. 5 2020 it was overrun by 30 to 40 gunmen of Al-Qaeda’s East African affiliate.
Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, Deputy Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, described how the attack unfolded.
He said a runway clearance crew spotted thermal images through a handheld scope but realised too late that they were Al Shabab fighters hiding in the undergrowth, who opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades.
‘The first RPG penetrated the front windshield but did not explode and one service member quickly escaped from vehicle,’ he said.
‘The second RPG penetrated the driver side door. A moment later, this device detonated and killed specialist Henry Mayfield instantly.’
The two contractors were killed when the gunman turned their fire on a aircraft that was preparing to take off.
‘The fighters also destroyed six U.S. aircraft, one Kenyan aircraft, several vehicles and other property,’ said Basham.
It took until about midnight for the area to be declared secure.
An initial investigation was carried bout by U.S. Africa Command. Last April, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered an independent review led by Gen. Paul Funk commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command.
In his report, he identified negligence as a factor.
‘I further find that although misconduct or criminal negligence was not the direct or proximate cause of the attack or the losses suffered, the negligent actions or inactions of certain leaders, staff, and security forces personnel did contribute to the outcome of the attack,’ he said.
The result was to make the base a more ‘vulnerable target than it otherwise would have been with more aggressive force protection measures.’
Part of the problem stemmed from failing to adjust security at the base after 2016 when it became a full-time airfield. Before then it was a Kenyan base which U.S. service members would visit for training.
As a result, security troops at the airfield were not read to respond to the attack. Instead it was Marines at Camp Simba, about a mile away, who responded first.
There were also delays to building a fence around the base.
The Air Force now trains all deploying security forces together before they depart for the country, and it requires that personnel be more experienced in force protection to get senior jobs at the bases.