Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III emphasized the close ties between the U.S. and Kenya today as he met with Kenyan President William S. Ruto.

The two leaders met following President Joe Biden’s announcement of his intention to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO U.S. ally. The announcement came during Ruto’s official state visit yesterday at the White House.  

Austin welcomed the elevation of the U.S.-Kenya relationship today, noting the strategic working relationships between the two countries’ militaries and defense civilians.  

“This designation underscores our close relationship,” Austin said. “And it demonstrates our deep appreciation for your contributions to peace and security in Africa and beyond.” 

The designation marks the strong ties between the U.S. and Kenya spanning six decades. 

Ruto echoed Austin’s praise and thanked the secretary for his efforts to deepen ties between the two militaries. 

The president added that Kenya’s friendship with the U.S. is based on a strong foundation of shared values.  

“We both believe in freedom,” Ruto said. “We believe in democracy. We believe in the rule of law. We believe in inclusivity, equality and, of course, in shared prosperity that is guaranteed by peace and security.” 

Kenya has been a close U.S. partner in countering al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group based in neighboring Somalia.

The militant group is responsible for multiple attacks in Nairobi, including a multiday attack on the Westgate shopping mall in which al-Shabab militants killed 67 people in 2013. 

In 2019, gunmen associated with al-Shabab attacked DusitD2 Hotel complex in Nairobi, killing at least 21 people. A U.S. citizen was among the dead.   

Kenya is also leading the Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti in response to Haiti’s request for international support to address insecurity in the Caribbean nation.   

Kenya has pledged to send 1,000 police to Haiti to restore safety and security to the country beset by widespread violence and civil unrest. The U.S. plans to provide $300 million in assistance and in-kind support to the mission.   

Austin said today that Kenya’s leadership of the mission “shows the important role that Kenya plays in global security.” 

“We also appreciate Kenya’s contributions to U.N. international peace and stability operations,” Austin said. “And of course, we’re also grateful for Kenya’s generous support in hosting U.S. forces at Manda Bay.” 

This week, the U.S. and Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding to expand the Manda Bay airfield. Austin said the agreement was a “testament to the strength of our partnership and to our commitment to strengthen Kenya’s counterterrorism capability.”

In September, Austin met with Kenyan Defense Minister Aden Bare Duale in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, to mark the United States’ commitment to a lasting partnership between the two countries’ militaries.  

During that visit, the defense counterparts signed a five-year framework for defense cooperation and enhancing interoperability between the two militaries. 

“It was important for me to travel to Kenya last year because it is a critical partner for regional security and a key partner for global security,” Austin said today during his meeting with Ruto.  

Austin announced today that three Kenyan cadets have been admitted to U.S. military service academies as further evidence of the close partnership between the two countries.  

“They will be the first Kenyan cadets to attend these outstanding schools — and I’m confident that they won’t be the last,” Austin said.  

“Mr. President, thanks again for visiting the Pentagon,” he said. “And I look forward to continuing our close cooperation.”

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