The Army general helming U.S. Africa Command pushed back against allegations that he was killed Sunday in an attack in Manda Bay, Kenya, which did take the life of one U.S. service member.
AFRICOM’s official Twitter account released a statement from Gen. Stephen Townsend after false claims were posted to various unverified social media accounts alleging that he was killed when al-Shabab militants attacked the base that sits roughly 150 miles south of the Kenya-Somalia border.
“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Townsend wrote. “This is yet another example of the lies, propaganda and fake news coming from al-Shabaab and other malign actors such as Iran and its proxies.”
The attack against the Manda Bay facilities took the lives of one U.S. service member and two Defense Department contractors. After the attack, al-Shabab claimed there were 17 U.S. casualties, which AFRICOM noted was not correct.
“The Fars Agency was one originator of the message and several unverified accounts reposted,” AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Christopher Karns told Army Times. “The news was picked up in Iran with other isolated claims on Twitter also claiming Gen. Townsend’s death, the majority being Iran-related.”
Karns added that the command does not assess that Sunday’s attack is linked to Iran. Fars news agency is often described as a semi-official outlet for the Iranian government.
“We’re increasingly seeing al-Shabaab and various actors employ false narratives to win support and gain influence with a range of audiences,” Karns said. “There are a lot of actors on the African continent with various agendas. It is important to help people understand the landscape on the African continent and what is at stake.”
The U.S. mission to Somalia is working alongside the African Union mission to the country, which is itself operating under approval by the United Nations. AFRICOM has long stated that the mission in Somalia is important to regional stability.
Six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to various degrees in the Sunday attack, which momentarily breached the base’s perimeter before being repelled by U.S. and Kenyan forces.
The false information about Townsend’s death didn’t appear to spread very far on social media before it was spotted by U.S. officials.
Several of the English language accounts sharing the information appear to regularly tweet anti-U.S. sentiments, but most have less than a thousand followers and do not appear to generate much traction online.
“It is important people understand the value of U.S. activity on the African continent and what we deliver in security and value for our nation and our partners,” Karns said. “Groups such as al-Shabab and others know this and seek to create false impressions and narratives in an effort to win influence. It is also important they know what we stand for.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.