5 April 2019

Somalia: U.S. Makes First Admission Over Civilian Deaths in Airstrikes

Photo: Shabelle
U.S. forces have conducted an air strike in Somalia against Al-Shabaab (file photo).

US had previously denied there had been any civilians deaths after 100-plus attacks against al-Shabaab targets in past two years

'We still need new investigation procedures and all cases of civilian casualties we have documented re-investigated' - Daphne Eviatar

Responding to an admission by the USA's Africa Command (AFRICOM) acknowledging that a US airstrike on 1 April 2018 killed two civilians in Somalia, Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA's Security With Human Rights Director, said:

"AFRICOM's acknowledgement of civilian casualties is an important step forward from their previous denials of any civilian deaths or injuries from US airstrikes in Somalia.

"But this is only a first step. We still need new investigation procedures and all cases of civilian casualties we have documented re-investigated.

"The family and community members of victims of these and other strikes who have had neither communication nor support from AFRICOM will find little solace in this initial response.

"That NGOs are able to more accurately investigate civilian casualties from AFRICOM strikes than the US military itself, highlights deeply serious problems with their civilian casualties investigation and reporting procedures and the need for effective, independent scrutiny."

USA's under-reported aerial war in Somalia

Last month, Amnesty published the results of a major investigation into the largely-unreported US aerial war in Somalia, showing how 14 civilians had been killed and eight others injured in just five of the USA's 100-plus attacks since March 2017. The attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes. US forces are known to have carried out a further 76 airstrikes in Somalia during the period Amnesty examined, as well as 24 in the first two months of 2019 - so the civilian death toll may well be far higher.

US airstrikes - with Reaper drones and manned aircraft - against Al Shabaab targets in Somalia have surged in the past two years, since President Trump signed an executive order on 30 March 2017 declaring southern Somalia an "area of active hostilities".

When approached with Amnesty's findings last month, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) denied that any civilians have been killed in its operations in Somalia.

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