Amnesty International is challenging US denials over civilian deaths in Somalia saying credible evidence is mounting, pointing to non-combatants dying as a result of air strikes in what could amount to war crimes.
The organisation has called on Washington to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the deaths.
A Wednesday report by Amnesty, “The Hidden US War in Somalia”, details how 14 civilians were killed and eight more injured in just five of the more than 100 strikes carried out in the past two years as US Africa Command (Africom) continues its air campaign against militant group Al Shabaab in support of, and in coordination with, Somali forces.
These five incidents were carried out with Reaper drones and manned aircraft in Lower Shabelle, a region largely under Al Shabaab control outside the Somali capital Mogadishu.
The attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes, said Amnesty.
However, Africom appears to be in a state of denial about the matter, repeatedly refuting that any civilians had been killed during its operations in Somalia.
Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser on arms and military operations, challenges this denial.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smokescreen for impunity,” said Castner.
“Our findings directly contradict the US military’s mantra of zero civilian casualties in Somalia. That claim seems all the more fanciful when you consider the US has tripled its air strikes across the country since 2016, outstripping their strikes in Libya and Yemen combined.”
The number of US strikes in Somalia surged after March 30, 2017, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities”.
US forces carried out 34 strikes in Somalia in the last nine months of 2017 – more than in the entire five years from 2012 to 2016. This increased again in 2018, to 47 strikes; and there have already been 24 in the first two months of 2019 alone.
A retired US Brigadier General interviewed by Amnesty asserted that this lessened the burden on the US military to guarantee that civilians would not be killed in air strikes.
“Worryingly, the general also believes that the executive order widened the net of potential targets to include virtually any adult male living in villages sympathetic to Al Shabaab and seen in proximity to known fighters. Such a broad targeting mandate would violate international humanitarian law and lead to unlawful killing of civilians,” warned Amnesty.
– African News Agency