Pentagon identifies US serviceman killed in non-combat incident in Djibouti
WASHINGTON - Pentagon has released details of a US serviceman killed in a non-conforming incident on Thursday in Djibouti but failed to establish the cause of the death.
Army Pfc. Walter Lewark, 26, was killed at Camp Lemonnier, one of the largest military bases in Djibouti, the official US station for AFRICOM troops, Pentagon announced on Friday.
Born in Mountainair, New Mexico, Lewark died on Feb. 13 and the incident is currently under investigation, Pentagon added in a statement.
He was serving with 1st Battalion, 200th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Troop Command in New Mexico Army National Guard, the detailed release revealed.
Traditionally, the Department of Defense first notifies the next of kin before officially making public details of the deceased servicemen.
His death comes at the time the US is contemplating scaling down or withdrawing US troops from Africa altogether, a move that could jeopardize counterterrorism missions.
Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary, has however made a quick U-turn following a backlash of his plans, arguing that the US will not, after all, conduct full troops withdrawal.
But still, lawmakers and national security experts have expressed concern over the planned reduction of troops from Africa, following Al-Shabaab attack at US Naval Base in Manda Airfield, Kenya.
The Jan. 5 incident was the first assault at a US base in Africa and left three Americans dead. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander, said "we were caught unprepared" in reference to the attack.
For the better part of this week, Townsend visited Kenya and Somalia where he said: "I want to get first-hand account experience from our troops and partners".
He held a closed-door meeting with Jubaland President Ahmed Madobe and Said Deni of Puntland where they discussed "possible partnership in the elimination of Al-Shabaab".
The Pentagon is amidst a review of U.S. troop posture across the globe as military planners look for avenues to shore up resources and forces to address rising near-peer threats like Russia and China, The Military Times reported.
The Horn of Africa remains a violent and volatile region. There are roughly 6,000 U.S. troops deployed throughout the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.
But Camp Lemonnier boasts the largest footprint in AFRICOM, boasting nearly 3,000 American troops, according to a recent inspector general report.
There are another 800 U.S. troops in West Africa and roughly 500 U.S. commandos dispersed across AFRICOM, the report detailed.
In Somalia, there are about 500 US Marine Corps, who besides helping in logistical support, often conduct airstrikes against the Al-Shabaab militants.
The army is deploying the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to Africa to replace elements of an infantry brigade from the 101st Airborne Division in the coming weeks.
Djibouti's incident could further raise questions about the role of the US military in Africa, with President Donald Trump keen to drastically cut expenditure in the military.