Al-Shabab’s assault on the Manda Bay Kenyan military base on January 15 received little immediate attention, as it was overshadowed by the United States’ assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani. As the immediate danger of escalation between Iran and the US has subsided, renewed focus is being placed on the consequences of the Manda Bay attack, which left three Americans dead and draws into question the stability of long-term American engagement in the fight against al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa.
Manda Bay has been used by American forces for years, hosting special forces groups like the Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and Marine Raiders to train and oversee Kenyan Rangers. The base was also home to expensive aerial surveillance aircraft, one of which was destroyed during the al-Shabab raid. These vehicles provide reconnaissance over the extensive Kenyan–Somali border, which has seen an increased level of violence from al-Shabab as they take their regional jihad into Kenya proper instead of confining their violence to Somalia.
A direct assault on a base with American military personnel and advanced technology is a new direction for al-Shabab, as they had previously stuck to attacks targeting exposed Kenyan and Somali troops in the countryside. Recently, suicide bombings and other shootouts have seen the terrorist group break this trend, a sign of growing strength and confidence for a group that has been operating for more than fifteen years.
In the long term, the United States will be reassessing the efficacy of its training of Kenyan forces and potentially reducing its presence in the region as part of a global troop reassignment initiative to counter Russia and China’s influence on the continent. And there are no apparent signs that al-Shabab is giving up any time soon.