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AFRICOM commander says six aircraft destroyed in Kenya attack

31 January 2020
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An attack by the Somali militant group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen on a Kenyan airfield used by the US military destroyed six aircraft, the commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed on 31 January.

A militant waves a black flag in front of a burning DHC-8 aircraft at Manda Bay airfield in a photograph released by Al-Shabaab on 5 January. AFRICOM said at the time that six aircraft had reportedly been damaged in the attack. (Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen)A militant waves a black flag in front of a burning DHC-8 aircraft at Manda Bay airfield in a photograph released by Al-Shabaab on 5 January. AFRICOM said at the time that six aircraft had reportedly been damaged in the attack. (Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen)

“They were able to get access to that airfield, kill three Americans, and destroy six aircraft there,” General Stephen Townsend told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I think it’s self-obvious we were not as prepared there at Manda Bay as we need to be.”

AFRICOM had previously confirmed that one US soldier and two US contractors were killed before US and Kenyan forces repelled the 5 January attack. “Reports indicate that six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to some degree,” it said at the time.

Al-Shabaab released photographs that appeared to show an attacker standing in front of a burning DHC-8-202 (Dash 8) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft registered to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) at the Manda Bay airfield.

The New York Times reported on 22 January that the two contractors who were killed were pilots who were taxiing a Beechcraft ISR aircraft that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Gen Townsend stressed how important ISR aircraft are to AFRICOM, saying, “We are at about 25% of our known validated requirement for ISR.” He added that AFRICOM’s resources, which include about 5,100 military personnel and 100 Department of Defense civilians and contractors, are otherwise adequate for its assigned tasks.

He said he expects these tasks and the resources assigned to them to be reduced as part of a review process. “We’ve made some presentations and recommendations to the secretary of defense. He is still in a decision cycle and I don’t want to get in front of his decision,” he told the committee.

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