The Defense Department today announced the investigation by U.S. Africom of the January 2020 attack by terrorist group al-Shabab at Cooperative Security Location Manda Bay, Kenya, which killed three. A secretary of defense-directed follow-up review of that initial investigation found no single point of failure for the loss of life or property damage. But both teams looking into the incident agreed on factors that contributed to the outcome of the attack and on recommendations for improved security operations.
In the early morning of January 5, 2020, between 30 and 40 al-Shabab fighters launched an attack on Cooperative Security Location Manda Bay. The attack resulted in the deaths of Army Spc. Henry Mayfield Jr., as well as civilian contractors Dustin Harrison and Bruce Triplett. The attack also destroyed six U.S. aircraft, one aircraft owned by the Kenyans and several vehicles.
Army Gen. Steve Townsend, U.S. Africom commander, directed an investigation into the attack. In April of last year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III directed a follow-up independent review of Africom's investigation. That independent review was conducted by Army Gen. Paul Funk, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
During a briefing today at the Pentagon, both Townsend and Funk discussed their findings.
"U.S. Africom took our investigation seriously and has taken extensive steps since the attack to make Cooperative Security Location Manda Bay, and all of our operating locations across Africa, more secure," Townsend said. "I found the investigation team's work to be comprehensive, credible and thorough. The independent review conducted by Gen. Funk and his team validated that extensive work."
The follow-on review fundamentally agreed with the initial Africom investigation, Funk said.
"I found that the U.S. Africom investigation was thorough, detailed, and supported by the evidence," Funk said. "I concurred that the proximate cause of the death of three U.S. citizens, injuries to three other U.S. citizens, and the loss of U.S. aircraft and property, was the attack by a massed force of determined, disciplined, and well-resourced al-Shabab fighters. No single point of failure directly caused the loss of life and damage to the property at Manda Bay."
Funk also addressed the possibility of criminal negligence or misconduct on the part of leaders on the ground at Manda Bay -- and said like Africom, the independent review found none.
"Both Gen. Townsend's investigation and my review found that neither criminal negligence nor misconduct by any U.S. personnel was the proximate cause of loss of life or property at Cooperative Security Location Manda Bay," Funk said. "But because the charter of the independent review resulted in a more in-depth analysis of individual leader actions, I was able to identify multiple personnel whom I deemed negligent in their actions or inactions, which contributed to creating a vulnerable airfield."
Townsend outlined four factors he said contributed to the loss of life and property damage at Manda Bay as a result of the attack, and those four factors were echoed by Funk's review.
First among those factors, Townsend said, was an inadequate focus on potential threats and force protection at multiple levels.
"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," Townsend said.
Second, Townsend said, there was an inadequate understanding of the true threat to the installation, which he attributed both to years of local threat assessments and shortcomings in the resourcing, sharing and dissemination of intelligence.
Third, he said, were deficiencies in the organization, preparation and training of security forces.
And finally, he said, were problems with mission command, including unity of command at the tactical level and flawed staff processes which failed to account for the growth of Cooperative Security Location Manda Bay from a training base to a counterterrorism support and airbase.
"We were not as prepared at Manda Bay as we needed to be," Townsend said. "Security on a key part of the base proved inadequate, with a security force that was insufficiently prepared for their mission."
As a result of the Manda Bay attack, Africom has directed all its subordinate components to implement a variety of corrective actions meant to improve security.
Actions across all of the Africom area of responsibility include prioritizing physical defense improvements; conducting more frequent leadership visits and security inspections; enhancing intelligence sharing; increasing the size of security forces and adapting their focus and capability according to the threat at a location; including defensive plans in pre-deployment training; ensuring clear command and control relationships, especially regarding force protection; and employing mobile surgical teams.
At Cooperative Security Location Manda Bay specifically, additional improvements include clearing vegetation around Magogoni Airfield to improve fields of observation; establishing 360-degree defense at the airfield; improving defensives, fighting positions and indirect fire protection at Camp Simba; increasing Kenyan participation in security operations; increasing frequency and range of patrols; and improving the communications function and capability of the base defense operation center.
Brig. Gen. Roy Collins, the Air Force Director of Security Forces, said already the Air Force has made changes in how security forces troops are prepared for operations in the Africom area of responsibility.
"Based on the tactical training deficiencies identified in the investigation, our Regional Training Center developed a robust mission-focused rehearsal training course designed to close the gaps identified with collective training, team cohesion and leadership, core skills training, rehearsals, battle drills and mission preparation."
Collins also said there was a need to develop training scenarios informed by real-world threat information to ensure security forces personnel are adequately trained.
"Prior to the rehearsal training course completion, aggregated Security Forces members must complete a culminating capstone field-training event to ensure deploying forces are mission ready," he said. "The rehearsal training course greatly exceeds the previous pre-deployment courses and focused on providing the base defense mindset and force protection posture needed to operate in a hostile environment."
This updated rehearsal training course, Collins said, was implemented in fall 2020, and all follow-on forces going into the Africom area of responsibility now receive the training.
"Service in parts of Africa can be challenging, even dangerous at times," Townsend said. "The threat from al-Shabab remains dangerous and real. Al-Shabab is the largest and most lethal arm of al-Qaida, an enemy America knows all too well for its ambitions and appetite for destruction. What we do with our African international partners to counter violent extremism in Africa is more important than ever. We hold a responsibility to Spc. Mayfield, Mr. Triplett and Mr. Harrison, and work every day to learn from this tragic event and to keep an attack like this from happening again."