An American servicemember and two Pentagon contractors were killed in Kenya on Sunday when al-Shabab militants launched an early morning attack “on an airstrip used by the U.S. and Kenyan militaries” on the coast near the border with Somalia, the Washington Post reports today from Nairobi. “At this time, the names of the fallen and the wounded are being withheld as part of the next of kin notification process,” U.S. Africa Command announced today in a statement.
Two other Pentagon contractors were also wounded in the attack and were being evacuated in stable condition, according to AFRICOM.
What exactly happened in the 3:30 a.m. darkness isn’t fully clear, but the Shabab fighters managed to use “indirect and small arms fire” to advance inside the base’s perimeter, AFRICOM said in its statement. Apparently in the process of that initial assault, “six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to some degree.” In the end, five alleged Shabab attackers’ bodies were found on the ground at Manda Bay Airfield, a Kenyan Defence Forces spokesman said, though Voice of America’s Harun Maruf reports the number could be as high as eight.
Said AFRICOM’s Gen. Stephen Townsend: “Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack and al-Shabaab who seeks to harm Americans and U.S. interests. We remain committed to preventing al-Shabaab from maintaining a safe haven to plan deadly attacks against the U.S. homeland, East African and international partners.”
Background, via the Post’s Max Bearak: “The U.S. military has led a largely aerial campaign against al-Shabab for much of the past decade. In 2017, President Trump loosened the U.S. military’s rules of engagement in Somalia, allowing for greater offensive use of force. Since then, the U.S. military has increased drone strikes and carried out a record 63 strikes in 2019.” More here.
Bigger picture, via AFRICOM: “The desired end state in East Africa is one in which terrorist organizations are not able to threaten the U.S. homeland, U.S. persons, international allies, or destabilize the region.” More here.
From Defense One
Iraqi Lawmakers Ask Government to Expel US Troops // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: Iraq analysts say the nonbinding vote is important but removal of U.S. troops is far from a done deal.
Who’s Next? Trump Crossed a Line with Soleimani’s Assassination // Kevin Baron: The Iranian was much more than a general. Who else is the U.S. president willing to kill?The Iranian was much more than a general. Who else is the U.S. president willing to kill?
Soleimani Strike Could Imperil US Troops In Iraq // Katie Bo Williams: Trump and his allies have sought to frame Iraq’s response to the strikes as a choice between Tehran and Washington, but the situation is not so black-and-white for Baghdad.
What’s Next for Iran’s Cyber Actors? // Patrick Tucker: The country has grown as a talented, and destructive, network threat over the last several years.
Increased Tensions With Iran Could Boost Defense Spending // Marcus Weisgerber: After three years of substantial increases, the defense budget was supposed to flatten. Experts say that’s now unlikely.
The Soleimani Strike Defied the U.S. Constitution // Oona A. Hathaway, The Atlantic: If Congress fails to respond effectively, the president will be left with the unmitigated power to take the country to war on his own—anywhere, anytime, for any reason.
The Soleimani Assassination Is America’s Most Consequential Strike This Century // Kathy Gilsinan and Mike Giglio, The Atlantic: The U.S. attack against the top Iranian general will have far greater repercussions than the killings of al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders.
The US Recently Made a Smart Move Toward Iran. Killing Soleimani Wasn’t It // MIIS professor Jason M. Blazakis: The decision to focus on Tehran’s proxies in the wake of the embassy attack was the right course.
Iraqi lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution asking the government to eject U.S. troops. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, will comply, as Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams explains. “Mahdi is slated to step down as soon as a replacement can be decided upon, and so has limited power. Even if the Parliament chooses to move forward, there are several other legislative steps that must be taken — a process that can take up to a year, according to U.S.-Iraqi agreements governing the U.S. troop presence. Moreover, it’s not entirely clear that the current government, under an acting prime minister, has the constitutional authority to undo the executive agreement that allowed the U.S. troops in the first place,” Williams writes.
“This is the beginning of a multi-sided negotiation—not the end of it,” said Thomas Warrick, a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council. Read on, here.
Trump responded by threatening Iraq. “If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis. We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever,” the president told reporters on a flight back to Washington from his vacation home in Florida. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.” (NYT)
For the record: U.S. troops are deployed to at least 11 Middle Eastern countries, the Washington Post illustrated Sunday in this map of the region. The estimated figures include:
- Nearly 14,000 in Afghanistan;
- 13,000 in Kuwait, including a deployment of 3,500 troops announced by the Pentagon on Friday;
- 13,000 in Qatar;
- 7,000 in Bahrain;
- 6,000 in Iraq;
- 5,000 in the U.A.E.;
- 3,000 in Saudi Arabia;
- 3,000 in Jordan;
- 2,500 in Turkey;
- 800 in Syria;
- And 600 in Oman.
Total: almost 68,000 U.S. troops across the region.
Find imagery of the latest batch of Americans deploying from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team in a collection on DVIDS, here.
Tehran says it no longer considers itself bound by the 2015 nuclear deal. “Iran’s nuclear program will now be based solely on its technical needs,” said an Iranian government statement issued on Sunday. New York Times: “The move includes breaching the deal’s caps on uranium production and enrichment capacity, as well as nuclear research and development.”
But Iran also signaled its willingness to return to the deal. “If the sanctions are lifted…the Islamic Republic is ready to return to its obligations,” the statement said, adding that Iran will continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear inspectors.
NYT: “President Trump thought the nuclear deal was flawed because restrictions on Iran would end after 15 years. Now, responding to a U.S. strike, Iran has declared the limits over after less than five.” Read on, here.
To answer some of your legal Qs about what’s happened and what could happen next vs. Iran, editors at Just Security and Lawfare were both busy this weekend. The former offered this:
- “The Soleimani Strike and War Powers” includes an assessment of “key legal questions” and a preview of a new research database, by Tess Bridgeman, former lawyer for the National Security Council and the State Department.
- and John B. Bellinger III, also a former lawyer at the State Department, wrote Sunday evening in Lawfare that “Attacking Iran’s Cultural Sites Would Violate the Hague Cultural Property Convention.”
Why not attacking cultural sites truly matters, according to Bellinger: “If the United States violates or skirts international law regarding use of force, it encourages other countries — like Russia or China — to do the same and makes it difficult for the United States to criticize them when they do so. If the United States ignores international law, it also makes our friends and allies who respect international law — such as the UK, Canada, Australia, and the EU countries — less likely to work with us. Unlike Russia and China, the United States has many friends and allies who share our values, including respect for the rule of law. But we lose our friends when we do not act consistent with law and our shared values.”
In the near- and mid-term for U.S. citizens, here’s a NYTs headline from Friday: “Airstrike Pushes National Security to Forefront of 2020 Race”
Turkey’s Erdogan says his troops are headed to Libya for a 12-month deployment, the New York Times reported Sunday evening. The elements going include “a mixed air, land and naval force” along with “combat aircraft and commandos,” and plans “to establish a sea and land base, possibly in Misurata, and to train a Libyan national army.”
What’s more, “Two naval frigates are already nearby in Algeria and a submarine is off Libya,” according to Turkish reporter and analyst, Mete Sohtaoglu.
Context: “Turkey has become increasingly embroiled in a proxy war as Gen. Khalifa Hifter — who controls much of eastern Libya and is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Russia — has sought to seize control of the whole country.”
Worth noting: In his public remarks announcing the deployments, “Mr. Erdogan seemed at pains to emphasize for his domestic audience that Turkish soldiers would not be doing the fighting, but would serve in training and coordinating operations. Other forces, he said, apparently referring to Turkish-backed Syrian fighters, would make up the combat units.” Some of those Syrians, the Times writes, have already landed in Tripoli over the weekend. More here.
Also in Africa: Chad just withdrew its 1,200 forces from the Boko Haram fight in Nigeria, Agence France-Presse reported this weekend. And it’s not because Boko Haram or its ISIS-affiliated off-shoot (West Africa Province) have been crushed; rather, Chad’s troops will be deployed domestically “in the Lake Chad region to strengthen security along the border,” a senior local official told AFP. Cameroon, meanwhile, “is battling an upsurge in Boko Haram attacks.” A bit more, here.
And lastly: America’s ambassador to Afghanistan leaves today in a “long-planned” departure, CNN reports. John Bass just wrapped up his two-year rotation in the gig, which started in December 2017. Stepping in to replace Bass is Amb. Ross Wilson, “a former foreign service officer who served for decades in multiple administrations,” CNN writes. Until then, deputy chief of mission Karen Decker is the chargé d’affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Read on, here.