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US reports deaths of civilians in Somali air strike

The US military has admitted to causing civilian casualties as a result of an air strike in Somalia in February.

A statement from US Africa Command said on Monday that two civilians were killed and three injured during the attack.

The statement adds that the same attack killed two members of the Islamist militant group, al-Shabab.

Amnesty International says the air strike killed a banana farmer and an employee of a telecoms company.

“Regrettably two civilians were killed and three others injured in a [23] February 2019 airstrike,” said Gen Stephen Townsend, the head of US Africa Command.

“We have the highest respect for our Somali friends and we are deeply sorry this occurred,” he said. The report claims that the civilians were hurt after munitions stored by the Somali militant group blew up in a secondary explosion.

The report notes that there were 91 airstrikes conducted by US Africa Command, also known as Africom, in Somalia and Libya in February and March 2020.

Gen Townsend said Africom will now begin producing quarterly reports on civilian casualties similar to US Central Command which oversees operations in the Middle East.

The US statement added that, by the end of May, a website will be available that will allow people to register allegations of any civilian casualties.

Amnesty International says that the US has killed 20 innocent casualties in Somalia, but the US denies this figure.

In a statement, Amnesty called the report a “welcome glimmer of transparency in more than a decade of deadly military operations that until now have been shrouded in secrecy”.

They called the ability to report casualties on a US website a “positive step” but said this will not be available to “the vast majority of impacted civilians who live in remote areas where smartphones are banned and internet access is poor”.

“Alternative means should be made available, including through establishing a mechanism in Mogadishu to allow clan elders or elected representatives to speak on behalf of civilians whose loved ones have been killed by US air strikes.”

Gen Townsend hit back at the suggestion that the US military had not been transparent about its operation in Africa.

“There is no secret air or shadow war as some allege,” he added in his statement.

When asked about compensation for the victims, US Africa Command said on Twitter that they “are working with the Federal Government of Somalia on appropriate next steps”.

Al-Shabab is linked to al-Qaeda and controls much of southern and central Somalia. It has also carried out a wave of bombings in neighbouring Kenya, and is regarded as the most dangerous militant group in the region.

In February, the group’s fighters attacked a base in Kenya used by Kenyan and US forces, killing three Americans – a US military service member and two contractors.


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