The United States said Saturday it was preparing cut staff levels at its Nairobi embassy because of the mounting threat of attacks in Kenya by Islamist militants.
A statement from the US ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, said the embassy was “continuously reviewing and updating its security measures, and expects to take additional steps in coming days, to include on US staffing.” “Based on the security situation, the embassy is reviewing its staffing with an eye toward reduction in staff in the near future,” the US State Department said in a separate statement from Washington.
Godec said the US “continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at both Kenyans and the international community,” adding that “the most important responsibility of every US ambassador and embassy is to protect American citizens.” The move comes amid a wave of shootings, bombings and grenade attacks in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and port city of Mombasa that authorities have blamed on militants connected to Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels.
On Friday a double bomb attack in a Nairobi market left 10 people dead and scores wounded. The State Department said it had noted “an increase in the number and an advance in the sophistication of these attacks”. According to US embassy staff, security around the embassy has already been stepped up but that certain departments currently based inside the compound could be relocated to embassies in neighbouring Tanzania or Ethiopia, which are seen as a far lower risk.
Embassy staff said the ambassador has already signalled internally this week that the “footprint” of the Nairobi embassy, which has more than 1,000 staff, would be reduced.
At least 200 people were killed when Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998, and US diplomats then moved to a more secure compound outside the city centre.
Any decision to cut staff at the US embassy would be another major blow to Kenya’s position as an east African regional hub for embassies and businesses — who already have to deal with rampant crime including burglaries, muggings and carjackings.
“If the Americans decide to make a structural adjustment rather than a temporary relocation of staff, then other countries are certain to follow. It shows they know something and haven’t been reassured by the Kenyan authorities,” a European diplomat, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
Earlier this week Britain, France and Australia also issued updated travel advice for their citizens in Kenya, telling them to avoid Mombasa and in some cases the capital.
The advice prompted a British tour operator to evacuate hundreds of tourists staying in a beach resort south of Mombasa by special charter flights.
The Kenyan government has expressed “disappointment” and has branded as “unfriendly acts” the issuing of negative travel advice.
Kenya has been targeted by the Shebab since sending troops to war-torn Somalia in 2011. Kenyan soldiers are still posted in southern Somalia as part of an African Union force supporting the country’s fragile internationally-backed government.
The Shebab claimed responsibility for the high-profile attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall last September in which at least 67 people were killed.