(CNSNews.com) – A Djibouti-based U.S. Army response force has been dispatched to a military base in Kenya to bolster security after an attack Sunday by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists killed an American soldier and two Department of Defense contractors.
The Defense Department on Monday identified the soldier killed in Manda Bay as Spc. Henry J. Mayfield Jr., 23, from Evergreen Park, Illinois. He had been assigned to the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group in Fort Rucker, Alabama, and was supporting Operation Octave Shield, the code name for the U.S. mission targeting terrorist groups in Somalia.
Mayfield is the seventh member of the U.S. armed forces to be killed in combat in Africa since 2017.
In Sunday’s dawn attack, claimed by al-Shabaab, terrorists briefly breached the perimeter at the base, located at a coastal airfield about 60 miles from the border with Somalia.
The terrorists were then repelled by U.S. and Kenyan forces, but Mayfield was killed, along with the two contractors, not yet named. U.S. Africa Command said two other DoD officials had been injured in the attack, during which contractor-operated civilian aircraft had reportedly been damaged.
The Kenyan Defense Forces said later the bodies of five terrorists had been recovered.
After the attack, messages posted on social media accounts, some of them linked to the Iranian regime, claimed that AFRICOM’s commander, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend had been killed in the attack.
“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Townsend said on Twitter on Monday morning. “This is yet another example of the lies, propaganda and fake news coming from al-Shabaab and other malign actors such as Iran and its proxies.”
At a time of significant tensions with Iran, AFRICOM said it does not believe the attack was linked to Iran – despite claims to that effect in “various open source reports.”
“While Iranian involvement is not suspected in the attack, U.S. Africa Command has observed other nations, including Iran, seek increased influence in the Horn of Africa,” it said.
After Sunday’s attack, AFRICOM’s East Africa Response Force (EARF) was dispatched to Manda to secure the airfield, where the military says U.S. forces provide training to African partners, respond to crises, and protect U.S. interests in the area.
The Djibouti-based EARF was created after the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in 2012. (A U.S. Central Command equivalent, known as the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, was the force deployed from Kuwait to Baghdad last week to secure the U.S. Embassy after the compound came under attack from Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters.)
“The EARF provides a critical combat-ready, rapid deployment force,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, AFRICOM’s director of operations. “The EARF’s ability to respond to events spanning a vast area of responsibility provides a proven and invaluable on-call reinforcement capability in times of need.”
Al-Shabaab’s attack came eight days after the terrorist group killed more than 80 in a truck bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.
Gayler described al-Shabaab – which the U.S. government designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2008 – as “brutal.”
“It is an al-Qaeda affiliate seeking to establish a self-governed Islamic territory in East Africa, to remove Western influence and ideals from the region, and to further its jihadist agenda. U.S. presence in Africa is critically important to counter-terrorism efforts.”
Before Sunday’s attack, six American military personnel had been killed in action in Africa since May 2017.
In June 2018, Special Operator Staff Sgt. Alexander Conrad, 26, of Chandler, Arizona, was killed in an al-Shabaab attack in southern Somalia.
In October 2017, four U.S. Special Forces troops – Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Sgt. La David Johnson – were killed in an attack by ISIS-affiliated terrorists in Niger.
In May 2017, U.S. Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer Kyle Milliken, 38, of Falmouth, Maine, was killed during a raid on an al-Shabaab compound west of Mogadishu. AFRICOM said U.S. forces were acting in an advise-and-assist capacity alongside Somali troops at the time.
Two months earlier, President Trump had approved a Pentagon proposal to expand an offensive campaign against al-Shabaab in Somalia, in support of Somali and African Union forces.
Milliken was the first member of the U.S. armed forces to be killed in combat in Somalia since October 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed in the “Battle of Mogadishu.”
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was based at the time in nearby Sudan, and earlier that year issued a fatwa urging Somalis to drive out of their country U.S. forces deployed on a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission.
Al-Shabaab emerged in 2006 and has been fighting ever since to overthrow the government and impose shari’a in Somalia.
The Stuttgart, Germany-based AFRICOM, an independent command since 2008, covers all of Africa except Egypt, which falls within the Central Command area of responsibility.