The US Air Force has flown one of its B-52 Stratofortress bombers off the coast of East Africa on a training mission, with the aircraft passing low over Somalia on Saturday. The flight comes a month after a deadly al Shabaab attack on a Kenyan air base that killed three Americans.
US Africa Command on 16 February said “in concert with partners, a B-52 training mission occurred in East Africa. This long-range, unarmed training mission showcases the global reach and agility of US forces. It also reflects our versatility and continued commitment to our partners.”
The command added that “our B-52 flyby in East Africa is an example of US partnership, commitment, resolve, and the global reach of this iconic platform. It demonstrates the precision and accuracy the US offers at a moment’s notice as we continue to apply pressure on al Shabaab and other malign actors.”
The B-52 was photographed on 15 February near Somalia’s Koyama island, with Somali media reporting the aircraft “causing concern among the locals.” The aircraft appeared in the early afternoon south of Kismayo, the capital of the semi-independent Jubaland state.
While the B-52 was apparently over Somalia on a training mission and unarmed, it carries the Sniper electro-optical targeting pod that is also used for surveillance/intelligence gathering.
The aircraft’s appearance came days after Africa Command head General Stephen Townsend visited Somalia, including Jubaland and Puntland, as well as Kenya. The aircraft’s presence could be a show of force towards Somali militants, which make regular attacks against Kenyan targets.
On 5 January, al Shabaab militants attacked the Manda Bay/Camp Simba airfield 100 km from the Somali border, destroying or damaging six contractor-operated aircraft and killing three Americans: one US military service member and two contractors.
Al Shabaab is acknowledged by the Pentagon as being the most kinetically active Al Qaeda affiliates, and late last year launched an attack on the Baledogle base in Somalia, which was repelled by US and Somali forces. The US conducts regular air strikes against al Shabaab targets in Somalia, primarily with unmanned aerial vehicles.
Since the Manda Bay attack, the US has ramped up security in the region, deploying elements of the East Africa Response Force to the region and shoring up physical security at Manda Bay.
As reported by The Drive, the US Air Force has B-52Hs deployed at present to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, with the US announcing earlier that it would send six B-52s there due to escalating tensions with Iran. Satellite photos taken on 14 February revealed six B-52s at Diego Garcia.
B-52s have previously been deployed to Africa – for example, in 2016, a B-52 flying from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom flew over the coast of North Africa during Exercise Just Hammer.