US military admits death of one civilian from airstrikes in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The US Africa Command has acknowledged the death of one civilian from its routine airstrikes targeting Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, in a second quarterly civilian casualties report issued on Tuesday, taking the total tally to five of cases that have been recognized.
For months, the US army had been on the receiving end over the alleged killing of civilians in drone strikes, but the command had rarely commented on allegations mostly coming from human rights groups. However, the command launched a civilian assessment report in April 2020.
During the April report, the US army acknowledged two deaths of civilians within Jilib town in Middle Juba. And on Monday, the US team also admitted one death and three injuries in an airstrike carried on February 2, 2020, in the outskirts of Jilib town, the headquarters of Al-Shabaab militants.
“USAFRICOM substantiates the death of one civilian and three injured, who were not visible when we delivered the strike against the targeted individual," the command said without revealing further actions that will be taken including much-needed compensation to the families of victims.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, the Commander AFRICOM, regretted the deaths but insisted that his team usually does due diligence before targeting the militants. According to him, the death was accidental but added that his team will be more careful in the next outing.
“Our goal is to always minimize the impact on civilians. Unfortunately, we believe our operations caused the inadvertent death of one person and injury to three others who we did not intend to target,” he said.
“We work hard to prevent civilians from getting hurt or killed during these operations designed to bring increased security and stability to Somalia.”
The military general, who visited Somalia in February this year, said that the allied forces will continue to bombard the Al-Shabaab militants, who have been wreaking havoc in the Horn of Africa nation. The command, he noted, will continue to provide the public with more information on the airstrikes.
“We will continue our campaign to disrupt and degrade al-Shabaab,” said Townsend. “We will provide as much information to the public as possible while maintaining operational security. We are committed to minimizing civilian casualties and will continue to thoroughly assess all allegations.”
Since January this year, the command has launched a record 42 airstrikes in Somalia mainly in central and southern parts of the country. In the process, over 60 militants have been killed according to the data taken from various press releases issued by the US army in their official social media pages.
Notably, Yusuf Jiis, one of the most sought militant was killed in April this year. In February, the AFRICOM team also announced the death of Bashir Qorgab, the head of Al-Shabaab's Amniyat wing, who was also accused of planning the deadly Manda Airfield attack in Kenya.
Human Rights groups have been calling for collective actions from the US military for almost a decade now. The decision to launch quarterly reports was welcomed by civil rights groups in Somalia which, however, called for more transparency and accountability.
Amnesty International has called AFRICOM’s civilian casualty reports a “welcome glimmer of transparency in more than a decade of deadly military operations.”
The Command said that there are four separate incidents of alleged civilian deaths that are currently under review and the report will be issued in the next edition on their status. There are close to 500 active US servicemen in Somalia mainly based on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab has close to 7,000 active fighters in Somalia but the team has been significantly degraded due to persistent ground combats and airstrikes from both Somali National Army and allied forces. The group was formed in 2008.