WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a high-level review of an initial military investigation into an attack on a Kenyan base by Islamic extremists in January 2020 that left three Americans dead, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The brazen assault by about a dozen Shabab fighters at Manda Bay, a sleepy seaside base near the Somali border, marked the largest number of U.S. military-related fatalities in Africa since four soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in October 2017.
The attack by the Shabab, Al Qaeda’s East Africa affiliate, revealed several glaring security shortfalls, an examination by The New York Times found soon after the assault, and underscored the American military’s limits on the continent, where a lack of intelligence, along with Manda Bay’s reputation as a quiet and unchallenged locale, allowed a lethal strike.
American commandos took about an hour to respond. Many of the local Kenyan forces, assigned to defend the base, hid in the grass while other American troops and support staff members were corralled into tents, with little protection, to wait out the battle. It would require hours to evacuate one of the wounded to a military hospital in Djibouti, roughly 1,000 miles away.
according to a statement that John F. Kirby, Mr. Austin’s spokesman, released late Monday. The Army appointed Gen. Paul Funk, the head of the service’s Training and Doctrine Command, to conduct the review.
“An independent review will provide added insight, perspective and the ability to assess the totality of this tragic event involving multiple military services and Department of Defense components,” Mr. Kirby said.
“It is the secretary’s desire to ensure there is a full examination and consideration of the contributing factors that led to this tragic event and that appropriate action is taken to reduce the risk of future occurrence,” Mr. Kirby added. “The families impacted deserve nothing less.”
An outside review of the Africa Command’s investigation could seek to avoid a repeat of the contentious Defense Department inquiry into the Niger attack in 2017. That report found widespread problems across all levels of the military counterterrorism operation, but focused in particular on the actions of junior officers leading up to the ambush — unfairly so in the view of many family members, lawmakers and even Jim Mattis, the defense secretary at the time.
ordered most of the 700 American troops in Somalia to leave the country, but not out of the region. Most of the forces transferred to nearby Djibouti or to Kenya, including Manda Bay, now with beefed up security. The Biden administration is conducting a review to determine whether to send any of those troops back to Somalia.