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US military vows to stand with Somalia in war against Al-Shabaab

By Staff reporter , Garowe Online

MOGADISHU, Somalia - The US military has acknowledged support from the Somalia government amid criticism over alleged deaths of civilians in its unrelenting airstrikes, pledging to fully support the ongoing war against Al-Shabaab.

On Thursday, the Somalia government hailed the US Africa Command for providing "aerial support" during SNA ground combats, terming the assistance as "critical" in the ongoing mission against the insurgents.

But such airstrikes were questioned by Amnesty International, which accused the US of failing to take "accountability for civilian deaths" in its mission in Somalia, terming the move "reckless".

Deprose Muchena, the group's East and Southern Africa director, unveiled a damning report about civilian casualties, which she labeled "extremely unaccountable" and "inappropriate".

"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.

But the US military, which has close to 500 personnel in Somalia, lauded FGS's statement, vowing to continue providing "unique" support to Africa nations facing violent extremism targeting civilians.

"The U.S. provides unique support to African partners. Our partners notice this support and they value it," AFRICOM said in a statement. "We stand with the Somali people as we counter a common enemy in al-Shabaab."

Besides offering logistical support during ground combats through airstrikes, the US military is also responsible for the training of SNA troops. So far, over 1,200 soldiers from Danab Brigade have graduated, AFRICOM said.

Earlier on Wednesday, US Africa Command under the leadership of Gen. Stephen Townsend promised to give a quarterly report on civilian casualties in Somalia. The first report is due in April 2020.

In response to the Amnesty International report, FGS blamed Al-Shabaab for civilian losses. The FGS said the militants often use civilians as human shields when under siege from allied forces.

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."

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."

According to Amnesty International, over 21 civilians have died from US military airstrikes in as many months, with scored injured especially within central and southern Somalia.

Of the alleged cases, the group added in their report, the US military only acknowledged one incident but until to date, the affected family is yet to be accorded necessary support in compliance with the international laws.

Since January, the US has conducted a record 32 airstrikes, which have left 29 militants dead, six injured and mass destruction of their sophisticated weapons. Bashir Qorgab, an Al-Shabaab operative linked to Manda Airfield attack, was among those killed in February, AFRICOM added.

Al-Shabaab controls large swathes in central and southern Somalia, although the group remains drastically neutralized. For the last decade, the Al-Qaida linked group has killed over 4,000 civilians, mostly Muslims of ethnic Somali.

The US will continue training Somali National Army [SNA] troops until 2027, with an aim of stabilizing security forces. The Al-Shabaab has since started vacating rural areas for urban centers due to increased airstrikes, reports indicated. 


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