The Pentagon has identified the U.S. soldier killed in an al-Shabab attack in Kenya on Sunday.
Army Spc. Henry "Mitch" Mayfield Jr., 23, died while supporting Operation Octave Shield, the name for the mission focused on targeting militant groups in Somalia, the Pentagon said.
He was killed during an attack that included mortars and small arms fire, breached the base’s perimeter and damaged six aircraft. There was no immediate information released regarding how Mayfield was killed during the attack.
Mayfield was assigned to 1st Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment, 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group, out of Fort Rucker, Alabama. His battalion provides expeditionary air traffic control and airfield management.
Mayfield and two DoD contractors died after the attack on Manda Bay Airfield, which is roughly 150 miles south of the Kenya-Somalia border. Two other Defense Department members were also injured in the attack, but remain in stable condition, according to U.S. Africa Command.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Specialist Henry ‘Mitch’ Mayfield’s family, friends and loved ones," said Col. William Garber, commander of the fallen soldier’s unit. "Mayfield was a dynamic soldier who inspired those he served with to excel both on and off duty. The 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group will miss his leadership and camaraderie.”
Mayfield is a native of the Chicago, Illinois suburb Hazel Crest. He enlisted into the Army in August 2017. His mother, Carmoneta, said that she last spoke with her son during the New Year’s holiday.
“We discussed him not having to go to Somalia and he told me everything was good and safe at his base,” Carmoneta told NBC 5 in Chicago. “He told me everything would be okay. Those were his last words to me.”
The attack was carried out by al-Shabab, a regional al-Qaida franchise that the United States and East African partners have been battling in Somalia.
The attack on the compound and airstrip at Manda Bay was repelled by U.S. and Kenyan forces only after the militants caused severe damage to aircraft on the base, which included planes configured for intelligence gathering.
“Reports indicate that six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to some degree,” the AFRICOM statement reads. “Manda Bay Airfield is utilized by U.S. forces whose missions include providing training to our African partners, responding to crises, and protecting U.S. interests in this strategically important area.”
AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Christopher Karns said the attack was not linked to tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Gen. Stephen Townsend, AFRICOM commander, offered condolences to the fallen soldier’s family in a statement following the attack.
“As we honour their sacrifice, let’s also harden our resolve," Townsend said in a statement. "Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack and al-Shabab, who seeks to harm Americans and US interests.”
The incident is the first known al-Shabab attack against U.S. forces inside Kenya, however the militant group has skirmished with U.S. troops before. Army Staff Sgt. Alexander Conrad was killed by al-Shabab mortar fire in June 2018 in Jubaland, about 220 miles southwest of Mogadishu, Somalia.
The U.S. mission in Somalia primarily involves targeting militants through airstrikes and training an elite partner force known as Danab. The number of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia have increased during President Donald Trump’s administration.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has 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.