NAIROBI - Islamic extremists killed three U.S. military personnel Sunday when they attacked a military based used by U.S. and Kenyan forces along the border with Somalia.
The extremists stormed past a perimeter surrounding the Manda Bay Airfield, destroying several U.S. aircraft and a number of vehicles before U.S. and Kenyan forces beat them back.
The U.S. Africa Command says the three killed were a U.S. service member and two contractors. Two other contractors were wounded.
The militant group al-Shabab is claiming responsibility for the pre-dawn attack Sunday. It says it has taken over part of the base, killing 17 Americans and nine Kenyans -- a claim AFRICOM calls exaggerated.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, condemned the attack.
"Although this attack shows a clear intent to continue targeting the United States’ presence in the region, the United States continues to stand in strong partnership with Kenya,” Engel said.
The airbase is in the coastal town of Lamu. Witnesses report hearing loud explosions in the middle of the night and seeing huge plumes of smoke rising from the area.
U.S. forces provide counterterrorism training to troops in East Africa. Al-Shabab has been fighting for more than a d cade to topple the Somali government and turn Somalia into a nation under strict Islamic law.
It has also launched a number of attacks inside neighboring Kenya, particularly against civilians.
Richard Tuta, a security expert, based in Nairobi, says al-Shabab is seeking recognition as U.S.-Iranian tension grows following the U.S. airstrike that killed the Iranian Quds Force commander, General Qassem Soleimani.
"They are aware currently the focus is on a retaliatory attack as a result of what happened in Baghdad. So to them, this an opportunity for them also to rebrand themselves internationally. That's why despite the fact that they knew very well that they were going to lose, but they had to do it in order to rebrand themselves internationally," he said.
But an al-Shabab spokesman told the Associated Press that Sunday's attack had nothing to do with events between the United States and Iran. Al-Shabab is a Sunni Muslim group while the vast majority of Iranian Muslims are Shi'ite.