Al-Shabaab fighters stormed a Kenyan airbase used by the US military in Lamu County in the north of the country on Sunday in a particularly brazen attack by the al-Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group on Kenyan soil.
Kenya Defence Forces said in a statement that four al-Shabaab militants had been killed in the early morning assault on the Manda Bay Airfield and there were no reports of other casualties. It said the attack had been repulsed and that the airstrip was secured.
A civilian airport, which is used by tourists visiting nearby Lamu island, was closed, but diplomats described this as “purely precautionary”, saying the airport itself had not come under attack.
US Africa Command said al-Shabaab was exaggerating the seriousness of the situation on the ground, and that the facility had been cleared and was in the process of being secured.
“Al-Shabaab resorts to lies, coercion, and the exertion of force to bolster their reputation to create false headlines,” General William Gayler, Africom’s director of operations, said in a statement.
The group has a history of overstating the impact of its strikes. Al-Shabaab said in a statement earlier that there had been “severe casualties on both American and Kenyan troops”, but there was no independent confirmation of that claim.
“The mujahideen fighters covertly entered enemy lines, successfully stormed the heavily fortified military base and have now taken effective control of a part of the base,” it said.
Diplomats cautioned against making any link between the Lamu attack — one of several mounted by al-Shabaab in recent years — and the US killing of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s military commander. The border between Kenya and Somalia is the scene of constant skirmishes between militants and Kenyan troops.
There were reports that three aircraft, two helicopters and several US vehicles were destroyed in Sunday’s raid, which took place just after 5 am, but there was no immediate verification.
Kenya has been a target of attacks by al-Shabaab because its troops have participated since 2011 in a UN-backed mission to fight terrorism in neighbouring Somalia. Al-Shabaab has been waging an insurgency in the south of Somalia for more than a decade. Last week, it killed more than 80 people in a bomb blast in Mogadishu, the capital.
In January 2019, more than 20 people were killed by al-Shabaab fighters in Nairobi in an attack on the Dusit hotel and office complex. In 2013, 67 people were killed in the nearby Westgate shopping mall.