US again accused of killing civilians in Somalia airstrikes
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The U.S. military is facing more allegations of killing civilians with airstrikes in Somalia, and now says it will address the issue more fully in upcoming public reports.
Amnesty International said in a new report Wednesday that the U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, killed two civilians and injured three others in two airstrikes in February as it strikes back at the Somalia-based, al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group.
One airstrike on Feb. 2 struck a home in the Middle Juba region as a family sat down to dinner, the Amnesty report says, and an 18-year-old girl was killed. Her sisters, aged 12 and 7, and their grandmother were wounded.
The other airstrike, on Feb. 24 near Jilib, killed a farmer who also worked for Hormuud Telecom, Somalia’s largest telecom company. At the time, Hormuud officials told The Associated Press that an employee had been killed.
After both airstrikes, the U.S. military said al-Shabab fighters had been killed. The group controls parts of central and southern Somalia and often targets the capital, Mogadishu, with suicide bombings. The U.S. has carried out more than 30 airstrikes against al-Shabab this year, well on pace to surpass the 63 airstrikes carried out in 2019.
“The U.S. military should not be allowed to continue to paint its civilian victims as ‘terrorists’ while leaving grieving families in the lurch,” Abdullahi Hassan, Amnesty International’s Somalia researcher, said in a statement.
The human rights group has been investigating U.S. airstrikes in Somalia for years. In a report a year ago, it described how 14 civilians had been killed in just five airstrikes in the previous two years.
AFRICOM has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against al-Shabab in the past decade, with the rate rising sharply under President Donald Trump, but it has acknowledged killing civilians in just one of them, a 2018 strike that killed a woman and a small child, Amnesty International said.
Hours before the rights group’s new report was released, the U.S. Africa Command announced that to increase transparency it would begin this month issuing a quarterly report on allegations and its assessments of civilian deaths and injuries.
This is part of the U.S. “commitment to protecting civilians from unnecessary harm,” AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend said.
The airstrikes explored in the new Amnesty report were carried out weeks after a devastating al-Shabab attack on an airstrip in neighboring Kenya used by U.S. forces. A U.S. serviceman and two American contractors were killed and several U.S. military aircraft were destroyed.