AFRICOM kills Shabaab commander behind Manda Bay Airfield attack

The U.S. military has killed a Shabaab commander who was behind last month’s assault on the Manda Bay Airbase in Kenya that resulted in the deaths of an American soldier and two contractors.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), announced yesterday that “precision airstrikes” that were launched near Saakow in southern Somalia on Feb. 22 killed a Shabaab commander and his wife, who is also a member of Al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa.

Shabaab has said in response that the attack was carried out under the “direction” of al Qaeda’s senior leadership.

“The two terrorists were identified as a senior al-Shabaab leader, who was in charge of planning and directing terrorist operations on the Kenya border region, including the recent attack on Manda Bay, and his wife, who also was a witting and active member of al-Shabaab responsible for facilitating a wide range of terrorist activities,” the AFRICOM statement noted.

AFRICOM did not name the Shabaab commander and his wife. Shabaab has not announced the death of any senior or mid-level commanders.

The Manda Bay Airfield assault, which took place in the early morning of Jan. 5, resulted in the death of an American soldier and two U.S. contractors, as well as the destruction of several aircraft. Shabaab also attacked a nearby base where U.S. troops were stationed.

AFRICOM initially claimed that U.S. and Somali forces “repelled” the assault and accused Shabaab of Shabaab of exaggerating the effects of its operation. AFRICOM later admitted that Shabaab “achieved a degree of success in its attack.”

Several days after the attack, Shabaab released a statement from its spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage, who said it was “carried out under the guidance and direction of the leadership of al-Qaeda, foremost among them being Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may Allah protect him.”

AFRICOM intensified airstrikes against Shabaab after Manda Bay Airbase assault

AFRICOM launched 13 airstrikes against Shabaab’s network in the six weeks following the Manda Bay assault, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. AFRICOM launched just 10 strikes against Shabaab in the previous three months prior to Manda Bay.

“Since January 5, U.S. Africa Command and our partners have pursued those responsible for the attack on U.S. and Kenyan forces at Manda Bay,” Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, said in a press release. “This strike demonstrates that we will continue to relentlessly pursue those responsible for Manda Bay and those wishing to do harm to Americans and our African partners.”

Seven of the recent strikes against Shabaab took place near the town of Jilib, near the Kenyan border. Jilib is a known stronghold for Shabaab.

AFRICOM noted that the strikes were targeting Shabaab commanders involved in the attack on the Kenya airbase.

Townsend noted that Shabaab “remains a dangerous and capable enemy” that seeks to attack the U.S.

“They are a menace to the people of East Africa and U.S. national interests there and their sights are set on eventually attacking the U.S. homeland. It is important that we continue to pursue al-Shabaab and prevent their vision from becoming a reality,” Townsend said.

Shabaab’s spokesman confirmed this in his statement on the attack. The U.S. is the enemy of all Muslims worldwide, Rage claimed, and said “all American lives and interests worldwide” should be targeted.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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