Friday March 11, 2022
Faults in intelligence sharing, security and leadership paved the way for the deadly attack on a Kenyan airbase used by U.S. troops in January 2020, a new Pentagon investigation finds, though the probe points to no single shortcoming.
An investigation by U.S. Africa Command (Africom) and a separate independent review found that on Jan. 5, 2020, a well-prepared, “ruthless and determined enemy force” of 30 to 40 al-Shabab militants conducted the attack against U.S. forces and assets at Manda Bay, officials said.
A few short minutes after the attack began, U.S. Army Spc. Henry Mayfield and two U.S. contractors, Bruce Triplett and Dustin Harrison, were killed, while six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged in the incident.
“We were not as prepared at Manda Bay as we needed to be,” Africom head Gen. Stephen Townsend said via video at the Pentagon.
Townsend said the investigation found four factors that contributed to the deadly outcome, including “inadequate focus on potential threats,” shortcomings in intelligence-sharing, deficiencies in preparing security forces in charge of guarding the base and poor command unity.
“Certain senior officers contributed to the inadequate force protection posture at Mandalay Bay, and to some extent, allowed a climate of complacency and poor understanding of the threat,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Tom Wilcox, who assisted in the independent review.
“In the end, though, while some individuals could and should have done better, the negligence of the individuals … was not the cause of the losses suffered in the attack, although it may have made the airfield more vulnerable.”
The attack on the base, situated on the coast and near the Somali border, was largely overshadowed at the time as it came two days after the U.S. drone strike ordered by then-President Trump that killed top Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
But a later New York Times report described the scene as chaotic, with American forces surprised by al-Shabab and taking roughly an hour to respond and even longer to evacuate a wounded Pentagon member.
On Thursday, multiple defense officials detailed the attack’s timeline of events, which began when two U.S. service members, Mayfield and a colleague, were driving a truck to clear the base’s runway when they saw thermal images of what was first thought to be hyenas. The two realized too late they had instead identified al-Shabab fighters hiding in the vegetation, officials said.
Mayfield was killed after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the vehicle and exploded, though his colleague was able to escape.
The two defense contractors, Triplett and Harrison, were killed when militants attacked their plane, which was taking off at the time, and it caught fire.
The attack on the base marked the most U.S. military-related deaths in Africa since an October 2017 ambush in Niger where four soldiers were killed.
Africom at the time conducted its own review of the incident, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in March 2021 ordered the Army to begin an independent investigation, led by the service’s Training and Doctrine Command head Gen. Paul Funk.
On Thursday, Funk said he agreed with Africom’s findings and that “no single point of failure directly caused the loss of life and damage to the property at Manda Bay.”
Funk also said he was “able to identify multiple personnel whom I deemed negligent in their actions or inactions which contributed to creating a vulnerable airfield.”
The report noted that eight officers and enlisted personnel were disciplined as a result of the incident, but Funk did not say what disciplinary actions were taken.
Asked about the disciplinary measures, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said all such actions taken were “administrative,” and referred further questions to the Air Force.