Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s regional branch in Somalia and East Africa, assaulted the Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya earlier today. The airbase is used by the U.S. military and its regional allies in the campaign against the jihadists.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) quickly acknowledged that the raid had taken place, saying it had been “repelled” and accusing Shabaab of exaggerating its prowess on the battlefield. Shabaab does often exaggerate the number of casualties and other details.
Still, while AFRICOM says the “airfield is cleared,” it was “still in the process of being fully secured” and the “security situation at Manda Bay is fluid.” AFRICOM also conceded that the jihadists caused “damage to infrastructure and equipment” at the airfield.
Via its Shahada News Agency and various social media sites, Shabaab issued a claim of responsibility for the assault in both Arabic and English. The al-Qaeda arm claims that “seven aircraft and three military vehicles were destroyed in the attack.”
Shabaab released a series of photos (seen below) accompanying its statement and some of those images do show aircraft set ablaze.
According to the Associated Press, an “internal Kenyan police report” indicates that “two fixed-wing aircraft, a U.S. Cessna and a Kenyan one, were destroyed along with two U.S. helicopters and multiple U.S. vehicles at the Manda Bay military airstrip.”
Shabaab claims to “have taken full control of some parts of the base,” adding that was “currently engaged in an intense close-quarters combat against the U.S. forces inside the naval base” hours after the pre-dawn raid was first launched. Both the Associated Press report and AFRICOM say the jihadists have been ejected, though it is possible they remain in the area. It is worth noting that Kenyan officials have downplayed the extent of Shabaab’s violence in the past.
Shabaab has branded the assault on Manda Bay Airfield as part of its “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Will Never Be Judaized” campaign. That campaign was initiated on the orders of al-Qaeda’s overall leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. And Shabaab has portrayed other terrorist operations, including a Jan. 2019 attack on a hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya, as part of the same effort.
Shabaab’s photos from the airfield show a black of tawhid (or monotheism) being displayed in front of a burning airplane. That image and others are part of its propaganda and media messaging effort. The photos are reproduced below.
Shabaab’s propaganda photos from the attack on the Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya