Human rights group Amnesty International has called for the United States to do an independent investigation into allegations that its increased air strikes in Somalia have killed several civilians.
In a report titled “The Hidden War in Somalia”, Amnesty claims 14 civilians were killed and eight others injured in five strikes over the last two years in Lower Shabelle. The region, largely under Al-Shabaab control, is located outside Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The group also claims that there have been over 100 airstrikes in the same period and they may have broken international humanitarian law, with some possibly amounting to war crimes.
Amnesty International says it did more than 150 interviews with eyewitnesses, relatives, persons displaced by the fighting, and expert sources. The group calculates that the United States tripled its air strikes across the country since 2016, under President Donald Trump, which is more than the combined number in Yemen and Libya over a similar period.
Amnesty cites in detail two cases in November and December 2017 where airstrikes killed six adults and two children and provides evidence of the claims using photographic evidence, witness statements and satellite imagery.
Amnesty says the location where the strikes occur and the risks associated with reporting them means there is hardly a chance for Somalis affected by the airstrikes to seek justice.
Both the US and Somali governments need to put an end the lack of transparency and must do more to enable affected communities to self-report civilian casualties – without this, justice is likely to remain elusive.” Amnesty said in a statement.
The US military, on its part, denied that any civilians have been killed in its operations in Somalia.
“Our assessments found that no AFRICOM airstrike resulted in any civilian casualty or injury. Our assessments are based on post-strike analysis using intelligence methods not available to non-military organisations.” a statement from the US Africa Command read in part in response to Amnesty’s claims.
AFRICOM confirmed that it had conducted 110 airstrikes since June 2010 killing over 800 terrorists. It also specified that the strikes are mainly done in secluded areas which have low populations.
AFRICOM said it thoroughly investigates potential targets to ensure only real Al-Shabaab and Islamic State militants are targeted in their strikes as both terrorist groups have a history of fixing their members and facilities in and around civilian areas to hide their activities.
“It is in the interest of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab to untruthfully claim civilian causalities. It is also in the interest of Al-Shabaab to coerce community members to make untrue claims.” the US military said.
Amnesty International said it presented its findings to the US military which denied the claims saying the report does not accurately reflect its record in mitigating civilian casualties.