US: Al-Shabaab leader, wife behind Manda Bay attack killed

Thick black smoke billows in the sky from the tanks at Manda Bay military camp that was attacked on Sunday, January 5, 2020, by Alshabab militants. Two American soldiers were killed when the militants torched a light aircraft where the two were on January 5, 2020. [Jane Mugambi, Standard].

The US military says a senior Al Shabaab leader behind the deadly January 5 attack on the Manda Bay base in Lamu County was killed along with his wife in precision airstrikes.

The only strike reported by the US military on February 22 occurred in the vicinity of Saakow, an Al Shabaab stronghold in the Middle Juba region.

The military said the targeted individuals were identified as members of Al Shabaab terror group.

The statement did not name the senior Al Shabaab leader, but it says he was in charge of planning and directing terrorist operations along the Kenya border region, including the Manda Bay attack.

The statement said the senior leader’s wife was also an active member of Al Shabaab responsible for facilitating a wide range of terrorist activities.

Three Americans, including a soldier and two contractors, were killed in the January 5 attack, when the Manda Bay base security was breached by the militants, who also destroyed six aircraft.

“Since January 5, US Africa Command and our partners have pursued those responsible for the attack on US and Kenyan forces at Manda Bay,” said Stephen Townsend, commander, US Africa Command.

“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,” he added.

During a hearing last month in the US Congress, General Townsend acknowledged the US military was not well prepared for the attack.

“We were not as prepared there at Manda Bay as we needed to be,” he said. “Al Shabab managed to penetrate on to that airfield ... killed three Americans and destroyed six aircraft, so we weren’t as prepared, and we are digging into that to find out why that was the case,” he said.

During the attack, Al Shabaab fighters fired mortars on the military installations while simultaneously assaulting the airfield. US and Kenyan troops responded to the attack, killing five terrorists. Initial US military estimates said that “several dozen Al Shabaab fighters” were involved in the assault.

A few days later, US military deployed additional forces (about 50 troops) to Kenya to bolster security at the Manda airfield.

Al Shabaab is considered to be al Qaeda’s largest affiliate, commanding some 5,000 fighters, according to US military assessments.

There are approximately 600 Department of Defence personnel in Somalia, where they primarily work with local Somali National Army forces to battle the al Qaeda affiliate.

US military officials say they have trained some 1,000 light infantry troops known as the Danab, which are seen as key to taking on Al Shabaab.

While Al Shabaab has lost control of much of the territory it once held in Somalia, it maintains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

The group is not seen as capable of attacking the US homeland, but is considered a major threat to US forces and partners in the region.