US military to issue casualty report amid claims of civilian deaths in Somalia's drone strikes
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Under pressure US military will issue a first quarterly report on civilian casualty allegations and assessment, AFRICOM said, a tactical move aimed at countering damning evidence of alleged deaths of innocent people across the continent.
To neutralize insurgents in several parts of the continent, AFRICOM has often conducted sophisticated airstrikes, with Somalia emerging as the most recent epicenter for such operations, due to ongoing Al-Shabaab war.
But throughout such operations, cases of lack of accountability has arisen, a move that has orchestrated plans to issue reports, which will cover both open and closed investigations in April, US Africa Command said.
Interestingly, the statement on Tuesday was issued almost simultaneously with the implicating report by Amnesty International, which accused the US of "maliciously" targeting innocent civilians in their frequent airstrikes in Somalia.
Deprose Muchena, the group's Director for East and Southern Africa, accused the US military of failing to admit civilian casualties, adding that the move leaves affected families in unprecedented "anguish" and "pain".
“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 it has completely torn apart,” she noted.
But to repair the dark record, US military aid, the initiative was designed to increase transparency regarding civilian casualty allegations reported
and will demonstrate the military’s constant "commitment to minimizing collateral damage" in the pursuit of military operations.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander, said his team has been reviewing CIVCAS tracking, assessment and reporting procedures since taking over in 2019.
“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," he noted.
There are about 7,000 US troops in Africa, whose main base is located in Djibouti. Of that number, almost 600 of them are involved in the current operation of rebuilding Somalia, a country eclipsed in Al-Shabaab insurgency.
Besides the Al-Shabaab, several violent extremist groups and militia have been identified in southern Africa especially in Mozambique, Boko Haram of West Africa and the dangerous rebels of North Africa countries.
To eliminate the groups the US military has often conducted airstrikes in affected nations. There is also a robust program of equipping armed forces especially in Somalia in pursuit to defeat the Al-Shabaab, AFRICOM said.
“It is critically important that our partners and the public understand our commitment to minimizing collateral damage while achieving precision effects. Where this does not occur, we’ll look to be the first to the truth,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, U.S. Africa Command director of operations.
“Our kinetic operations in Africa follow a strict, disciplined, and precise process. Nobody is more devoted to the preservation of innocent lives than the U.S. military, and our actions and processes reflect that fact.”
Issuing a quarterly report is part of an effort to increase transparency and to further expand reporting mechanisms. It is an opportunity to gain feedback and provide updates on the status of assessments, US Africa Command said.
In the last three months, the US military has conducted 32 airstrikes, almost half of similar operations executed in 2019, surpassing missions of such nature in war-prone Syria and Iraq where America has waged a resilient fight against ISIS.
At least 29 suspected militants have been killed this year from such airstrikes, with the most wanted operative, Bashir Qorgab, being one of the victims. He was killed on Feb. 22, and had been linked to Manda Airfield raid in Kenya early this year, AMISOM reported.
But Amnesty International insists that the US military has violated the international law, documenting specific cases in Somalia, where such airstrikes allegedly claimed the lives of civilians.
"This is unconscionable; the US military must change course and pursue truth and accountability in these cases, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law," Muchena added.
According to the group, the airstrikes have killed over 21 civilians, wounding six of them in as many years. But despite the compelling evidence, it added, the US has only taken responsibility for only one case.