U.S. military personnel train Kenyan soldiers at a base attached to the airstrip, known as Camp Simba, and the U.S. military uses the airstrip for aerial missions against al-Shabab in Somalia. Capt. Marcie Mascaro, a spokeswoman for U.S. Africa Command, acknowledged there was an attack at Manda Bay Airfield and said they were monitoring the situation.
“This morning at around 5:30 a.m. an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Air Strip,” Lt. Col. Paul Njuguna, spokesman of the Kenya Defence Forces, told The Washington Post. “The attempted breach was successfully repulsed. Four terrorist bodies have so far been found. The airstrip is safe. Arising from the unsuccessful breach a fire broke out affecting some of the fuel tanks located at the airstrip. The fire has been put under control and standard security procedures are now ongoing.”
A Kenyan police reported cited by the Associated Press also said that two airplanes, one Kenyan and one American, along with two U.S. helicopters and other vehicles, were destroyed in the attack.
In its statement on Sunday’s attack, al-Shabab said it had inflicted “severe casualties” on both American and Kenyan forces and confirmed it had destroyed U.S. aircraft and vehicles.
Al-Shabab has mounted a string of attacks in Kenya recently, including multiple ambushes on passenger buses traveling in the region close to the Somali border. Last Saturday, the group bombed a busy intersection in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing at least 80 people. Almost a year ago, al-Shabab staged its most daring attack on Kenyan soil in half a decade when multiple gunmen stormed a luxury hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, holding it in a 20-hour siege in which at least 21 civilians were killed.
Al-Shabab controls most of rural southern and central Somalia and regularly attacks Mogadishu. The group seeks to impose a strict version of Islamic law and to expel foreign troops from the country. In addition to about 500 U.S. personnel in Somalia, the African Union sponsors a coalition of about 20,000 troops, mostly from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.
The group gets most of its funding from an extensive protection racket which functions like a parallel taxation system throughout the country. They are paid tens of millions of dollars per year by farmers, business owners and others who are threatened with death if they don’t pay up.
The U.S. military has led a largely aerial campaign against al-Shabab for the better part of the last decade. In 2017, President Trump loosened the U.S. military’s rules of engagement in Somalia, allowing for greater offensive use of force. Since then, the U.S. military has ramped up drone strikes, and carried out a record 63 strikes in 2019, in which it claimed to kill hundreds of al-Shabab fighters.
Rael Ombuor in Nairobi contributed to this report.