Somalia defends US military raids against Al-Shabaab amid civilian deaths
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Airstrikes and subsequent surveillance are fundamental in operations targeting Al-Shabaab, Somalia said on Wednesday, even as Amnesty International questioned accountability for civilian deaths.
Through the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism, FGS vehemently defended operations by the US Africa Command, insisting that "we go to extensive lengths of minimizing civilian casualties by respecting human law".
Deprose Muchena, the group's East and Southern Africa director, unveiled a damning report about civilian casualties, adding that both parties are "extremely" unaccountable when it comes to casualties involving civilians.
"The evidence is stacking up and it’s pretty damning. Not only does AFRICOM utterly fail at its mission to report civilian casualties in Somalia, but it doesn’t seem to care about the fate of the numerous families," she said in a statement, Tuesday.
Statistics documented by Amnesty International shows that over 21 civilians have succumbed to US airstrikes in the last decade, with several others injured. The US Africa Command has taken responsibility for only one incident, the group added.
But FGS has now shifted blame to Al-Shabaab militants, accusing the Al-Qaida linked network of "hiding" in civilians by using them as "human shields" when running away from sophisticated operations targeting them.
The statement said, "Al-Shabaab hides in civilians by using them as human shields because they know high regard for human life cherished by the FGS and US military."
Until last week, the US military, which comprises of about 500 personnel in Somalia, had conducted 32 airstrikes for three months, almost half of the total number of raids against Al-Shabaab in 2019, which was 63 in total.
And the drone strikes, which mainly focus on the Al-Shabaab's indisputable strongholds in central and southern Somalia, have killed about 29 militants this year. Bashir Qorgab, the militant linked to Manda Airfield attack in Jan, was killed in Feb at Saakow, AFRICOM said.
While the US gives aerial aid during such operations, most SNA troops manly from the American-trained Danab forces and those from AMISOM participate in ground operations. The most recent was in Janaale, which was seized from Al-Shabaab, officials said.
FGS maintains that "proper" measures are undertaken to minimize human collateral damage in compliance with international humanitarian law, which demands strict adherence to the protection of human life.
"Measures are taken to minimize human life risks and each claim of casualty is investigated thoroughly," read the statement. "These strict standards contrast those of Al-Shabaab who target civilians and create a climate of fear."
This month, the US Africa Command will start issuing an accurate quarterly reports about civilian casualties, a move which will "clear air" about frequent accusations of veering off from set regulations on airstrikes against the militants.
“Since I took command last year, we have been reviewing and revising our CIVCAS tracking, assessment and reporting procedures,” said U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
“To demonstrate our transparency and commitment to protecting civilians from unnecessary harm, we plan to publicize our initial report by the end of April and we will provide quarterly updates thereafter.”
The airstrikes, FGS added, provide "valuable support" and help to" protect Somalis" from harm and destruction Al-Shabaab is seeking to create.
A report by AFRICOM shows that there are about 7,000 active Al-Shabaab fighters in East Africa. The group has been greatly weakened by the airstrikes, forcing some to flee remote villages to towns, UN said in a report.
Had it not been an airstrike by the US military, the FGS added, Al-Shabaab militants would have killed "many soldiers and civilians" during September 2019 raid at Ballidogle army base.
"The Government's first duty is to protect civilians' lives, properties, freedoms. FGS obliged to flight until the last remnants of Al-Shabaab are eliminated," added the statement.
The US has a total of 7,000 troops in Africa, whose main base is at Djibouti. Al-Shabaab has killed over 4,000 innocent civilians in the last decade, with over 90 percent being Muslims from Somalia.