1 U.S. Serviceperson, 2 Contractors Dead, 6 Planes Struck, Including Rare Spy Plane, In Kenya Attack

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An attack on a military outpost in Kenya where U.S. troops are stationed, as well as its associated airfield, has left a U.S. servicemember and two contractors dead and six aircraft and helicopters damaged or destroyed. This includes a secretive U.S. military de Havilland Dash-8 twin-engine turboprop configured for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The terrorists who carried out the raid also damaged or destroyed vehicles and fuel tanks.

Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda’s franchise in Somalia, carried out the attack on the base, known as Camp Simba, and the nearby airfield, typically referred to simply as Manda Bay after the nearby body of water of the same name, occurred in the early hours local time on Jan. 5, 2020. The terrorists reportedly used a suicide car bomb to breach the main facility and also stormed the airstrip, both of which are situated roughly 60 miles southwest of the Somali border. One U.S. service member and two Department of Defense contractors died in the attack, according to U.S. Africa Command, while another two U.S. military members were injured and are, at the time of writing, in stable condition and being evacuated.

There is no word yet on any Kenyan casualties, but the country’s authorities have said that at least eight Al Shabaab terrorists died in the ensuing skirmish. U.S. and Kenyan authorities had earlier since issued statements that forces from both countries had successfully repelled the attackers.

US AFRICOM

@USAfricaCommand

UPDATE: Attack at Manda Bay Airfield, Kenya – http://go.usa.gov/xpteq 

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US AFRICOM

@USAfricaCommand

UPDATE: U.S. Statement on Manda Bay Terrorist Attack – http://go.usa.gov/xptSC 

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“The attack on the compound today involved indirect and small arms fire. After an initial penetration of the perimeter, Kenya Defense Forces and U.S. Africa Command repelled the al-Shabaab attack,” AFRICOM’s statement read. “Reports indicate that six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to some degree.”

Google Maps

the general location of both Camp Simba and the Manda Bay airfield.

Google Earth

A satellite image giving a general look at the location of the Manda Bay airstrip and Camp Simba to the north.

Benjamin Strick@BenDoBrown

Alleged attack on airstrip near Camp Simba (used by US & Kenyan forces) hours ago. Location of airstrip is here: https://goo.gl/maps/7WqtDTSiYpBXcKwg9 . Smoke seen emerging from the base in open source imagery. This thread is to verify imagery. https://twitter.com/kdfinfo/status/1213714104109740034 

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Kenya Defence Forces

@kdfinfo

This morning at around 5:30 am an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Air Strip. The attempted breach was successfully repulsed. Four terrorists bodies have so far been found. The airstrip is safe.https://www.facebook.com/1220669148077464/posts/1882107455266960/ 

Benjamin Strick@BenDoBrown

This image of smoke rising from alleged attack area was taken south east of the air strip. The multicoloured building seen is located here: https://goo.gl/maps/jJvhjWUqLfpYY5ZX7 . The light in the foreground of the image is on the barrier of the Lapset Compound.

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The full extent of the damage remains unclear. The Associated Press, citing an initial Kenyan police report the outlet had seen, had reported that an unspecified U.S. “Cessna,” as well as a Kenyan Cessna Grand Caravan, and two unknown U.S. helicopters, along with various American vehicles had been destroyed.

Pictures that have emerged that show what appears to be the remains of a Beechcraft King Air that was destroyed and burned out during the attack, as well as a pair of M-ATV mine-resistant vehicles that very likely belong to U.S. forces. This could be the aircraft that the Kenyan police report described as a U.S. “Cessna.”

Roncliffe Odit@RoncliffeOdit

BREAKING: Al-Shabaab say they have launched a dawn attack on Kenya/US military base in Lamu County. A suicide car bomb reportedly breached the entry to Camp Simba, Manda Bay. The explosion sent plume of dark smoke into the sky.
Photos ~ Courtesy

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Some reports have suggested that this could be a U.S. Air Force C-146A Wolfhound special operations transport, but the tail section seen in the image notably lacks the “stinger” style tail seen on that aircraft, along with other differences. In addition, AFRICOM has only said so far that the destroyed and damaged aircraft were contractor-operated, which the Wolfhounds are not.

Contractors do fly a mix of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from the Manda Bay to provide transport, casualty evacuation, and personnel recovery support to American forces and their local partners in Kenya and neighboring Somalia, where U.S. special operations forces and other troops are fighting Al Shabaab and training Somali personnel to do the same. At least one contractor-operated Bell 412 helicopter is based there, which could be among the U.S. helicopters that reportedly got destroyed in the raid.

SOCOM

US special operators work with a contractor-operated Bell 412 helicopter during a training exercise in 2019 near Camp Simba.

Al Shabaab has also released its own pictures from the attack, clearly showing a specially configured de Havilland Dash-8 in front of what appears to be the burning fuel tanks. We don’t know how severe the damage to this plane is, but one picture does show smoke coming out of the cockpit and an Al Shabaab terrorist appearing to be putting or trying to put something inside.

Al Shabaab

A picture Al Shabaab released from the attack, showing the Dash-8 in front of a burning fire.

Al Shabaab.

Another image showing an Al Shabaab terrorist possibly putting something into the aircraft’s cockpit as smoke pours out.

Joseph Dempsey@JosephHDempsey

Aerial image reportedly showing aftermath of attack consistent with [Camp Simba] airfield, Manda Bay (02° 9’55.60″S 40°53’38.86″E)

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Joseph Dempsey@JosephHDempsey

Imagery reported released by media channel consistent with modified @Bombardier Dash 8 Q200 associated with Army Special Operations Command (SOCOM)

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This U.S.-government owned, but contractor-operated Dash-8, a DHC-8-202 model, belongs to a secretive fleet of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft known as SOCOM Tactical Airborne Multi-Sensor Platforms, or STAMP, which The War Zone was first to report on. These aircraft are known to support shadowy Joint Special Operations Command.

At present, the STAMP fleet includes two DHC-8-202s, as well as three Beechcraft King Airs. The paint scheme on the aircraft in the images Al Shabaab posted online, white with a large blue cheatline with a smaller red one underneath, matches the Dash-8 that presently carries the U.S. civil registration code N8200L. You can read more about this particular plane in this past War Zone piece. The other STAMP Dash-8, N8200R, has a similar paint job, but with the colors of the cheatlines reversed.

SOCOM

Details about the entire STAMP fleet as of May 2019.

Satellite imagery shows that U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command U-28A ISR aircraft and contractor-operated Beechcraft King Airs are also regular visitors to Manda Bay.

Google Earth

A satellite image from April 2019, showing various aircraft at Manda Bay, including at Beechcraft King Air at the top of the runway about to take off.

Whatever the final damage assessment is and how many aircraft and other assets Al Shabaab succeeded in destroying or damaging, the attack is a particularly brazen statement of the group’s very real ability to strike outside of Somalia. Kenya, which is a significant member of the African Union-led operations targeting Al Shabaab in Somalia, has suffered a number of attacks on both military and civilian targets on its own soil from the group in recent years.

Just last year, the terrorist organization launched a major attack on an upscale Dusit D2 Hotel and associated business complex in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, killing 21 people and wounding another 28. After that operation, Al Shabaab announced the beginning of a campaign it dubbed “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) will never be Judaized,” a reference to a pledge to ultimately eject Israel from the city of Jerusalem, a common refrain among Islamic extremist groups. The Somalia terrorists said that the raid on Camp Simba and Manda Bay was part of this same campaign. There is no indication that this is tied to the ongoing crisisbetween the United States and Iran.

Harun Maruf

@HarunMaruf

BREAKING: Reports from Kenya say Al-Shabaab militants have launched a dawn attack on Kenya military base in Lamu County. A suicide car bomb reportedly breached the entry to Camp Simba, Manda Bay. The explosion sent plume of dark smoke into the sky, photos purportedly show.

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Harun Maruf

@HarunMaruf

Al-Shabaab issued a statement claiming it took control of a “part of the base”; says Camp Simba is used by Kenyan and US forces. AS says attack is part of its campaign entitled “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) will never be jusaized” which was first heard in Jan 2019 after DusitD2 attack.

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Harun Maruf

@HarunMaruf

Iran tried to establish good relations in Somalia following the 2011 famine, donating millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid. Al-Shabaab didn’t threaten Iranian interests in Mogadishu at the time. In Jan 2016 Somalia cut ties with Iran after pressure from Saudi Arabia.

Harun Maruf

@HarunMaruf

A former Al-Shabaab defector believes some of the weapons Iran sends to Yemen end up in Somalia. Al-Shabaab likely bought weapons including shoulder missiles from smugglers who bring it from Yemen. While these weapons may have originated Iran, there is no proof of direct supplies

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This also comes as the U.S. military has significantly expanded both facilities in recent years, which coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to designate a swath of southern Somalia as an “area of active hostilities” in 2017. This enabled the U.S. military to dramatically increase its operations there and has led to a spike in airstrikes, including using drones, on Al Shabaab targets since then. Aircraft flying from Manda Bay have been providing important persistent surveillance capabilities over southern Somalia in support of those operations.

Google Earth

Left to right, Manda Bay in 2014, 2018, and 2019.

U.S. forces first began operating from Camp Simba and Manda Bay more than 10 years ago, with the U.S. Navy initially being responsible for overseeing operations at these facilities. In addition to using the airstrip as a launch point for aerial reconnaissance over neighboring Somalia, American forces have used the main base as a training base for both Kenyan and Somali forces.

In 2017, overall responsibility for both sites passed to the U.S. Air Force, which established the 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron to oversee day-to-day activities at Manda Bay. In August 2019, this unit raised the American flag over the airfield, in a ceremony that marked its transition to an “enduring” base, meaning the U.S. military now treats it as a semi-permanent operating location.

Despite this existing plan to continue operations at this site for the foreseeable future, Al Shabaab’s attack has demonstrated a clear need for U.S. and Kenyan forces to reassess their defensive posture going forward.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.

Author’s note: The original version of this story said that three Americans had died. U.S. Africa Command has not yet specified the nationalities of the two Department of Defense contractors. The story has been amended to reflect this.

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