NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 1 – The US Forces in Somalia are once again on the spot for killing civilians in heightened airstrikes targeting Al-Shabaab terrorists.
The US military has also been faulted for failing to compensate families that had lost their relatives in airstrike even after acknowledging hitting civilian populations.
The latest incident happened in March this year when three farmers were killed according to a report by the Amnesty International, released on Monday.
Investigations established the three – whose death left 19 children without a father – did not have any link with the ragtag militia.
Amnesty International Somalia Researcher Abdullahi Hassan termed the killings as counterproductive, saying they are devastating to those directly affected while they have led to internal displacements of locals, mostly in the Lower Shabelle Region.
“It’s bad enough that the US Africa Command appears not to know who its airstrikes are actually killing and maiming in its secretive war in Somalia. But it’s reprehensible that AFRICOM offers no way for those affected to contact it and has failed to reach out to the families of victims after its version of events was called into question in this case,” he said during an interview with Capital FM News.
“This is just one of many cases of the US military wantonly tarnishing large parts of the Somali population with the ‘terrorist’ label. No thought is given to the civilian victims or the plight of their grieving families left behind.”
The March incident killed two men instantly while the third succumbed to injuries while undergoing treatment at a Mogadishu-based hospital.
In a statement on March 19, the US Africa Command said they had killed three terrorists, but promised to review any information, suggesting they were not.
“Also, we are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties resulting from this airstrike. As with any allegation of civilian casualties we receive, U.S. Africa Command will review any information it has about the incident, including any relevant information provided by third parties,” reads a section of the statement released by the US Africa Command.
Since 2017, Hassan said the US military has used drones and manned aircraft to carry out at least 131 strikes in Somalia, killing 17 civilians in 6 instances, while some 8 other locals sustained injuries.
This year alone, US Forces which are controlled from the US-Africom headquarters based in Germany, have carried out 50 airstrikes in Somalia, an increase from 37 in 2018 and 34 in 2017, in a period of nine months.
Hassan urged both Somali and the US Government to ensure those affected are compensated as well as establish proper mechanisms for locals to raise their complaints.
“We are urging them to reach out on these families and conduct impartial and proper investigations into these allegations. They should also hold to account individuals who are violating international laws to account,” he said.
In a statement on Monday, Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Advisor on Arms and Military Operations said “This is yet another crushing injustice – three civilian men died agonizing deaths while their families are left questioning why the US military targeted and killed them. It is also potentially unlawful and raises questions about how seriously AFRICOM takes its obligations under international law.”
Castner urged the US government to ensure “thorough, impartial investigations into all credible allegations of civilian casualties are carried out, with accountability for those responsible for violations and reparation made to the victims and survivors. It can start by establishing an accessible mechanism for Somalis to safely report civilian casualties of US military operations.”
-Al-Shabaab attacks US base, EU convoy-
Though the militants have largely been weakened, they still have the ability to launch pockets of attacks in Somalia and the region. In some cases, they have carried out a large-scale assault.
This is despite Somalia being an active military zone, with more than 20,000 troops under African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) who have reclaimed huge chunks of areas, formally governed by the Al-Qaeda linked terror group.
While the US has sustained the airstrikes – an operation now tainted by the killing of civilians – they too, have not been spared the wrath of a militant group responsible for thousands of deaths within Somalia and neighbouring Kenya.
In a most recent attack Al-Shabaab on Monday, September 30, claimed responsibility for an attack on a US base in Somalia and a separate strike against a convoy of EU advisers.
The militants hit the US base at Baledogle, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, with explosives before gunmen opened fire on the compound.
“This attack, though ineffective, demonstrates the direct threat al-Shabaab poses to Americans, our allies, and interests in the region,” said Maj. Gen. William Gayler, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) director of operations, in a statement on Tuesday.
“Incidents like this will not compromise the pressure being placed on this terrorist network by the Federal Government of Somalia and international partners.”
In a rejoinder, the US Forces carried out two airstrikes, that killed 10 suspected terrorists. A vehicle involved in the Monday attack was destroyed, the US-AFRICOM said.
“This group is responsible for routinely placing innocent civilian lives in danger,” Gayler said.
“Our Somali partners continue to make progress against Al-Shabaab while demonstrating considerable resolve. We will continue to place pressure on the al-Shabaab network.”
Like in any other statement after an airstrike, the US said: “no civilian was killed.”