A human rights group says 14 civilians were killed during five U.S. airstrikes in Somalia in the last two years, an allegation the U.S. military strongly denies.
Amnesty International issued a civilian casualty report Tuesday, which included accounts from 65 eyewitness interviews, several photos, satellite imagery and social media posts as evidence of airstrikes in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region from October 2017 to December 2018.
The rights group concludes that its report “provides credible evidence that U.S. airstrikes were responsible for four of these incidents and that the fifth was most plausibly caused by a U.S. airstrike.”
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which conducts U.S. military strikes in Somalia in coordination with the Somali government, asserted that no civilians have been killed in its strikes and said Amnesty’s report “does not accurately reflect AFRICOM’s record in mitigating civilian casualties.”
“AFRICOM goes to extraordinary lengths to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, exercising restraint as a matter of policy,” it said.
The rights group presented 13 allegations to the command in October 2018 and February 2019, five of which were detailed in its report. Amnesty’s Conor Fortune told reporter on Tuesday that the other allegations lacked “sufficient corroborating evidence” or were disregarded by the rights group based on “untrustworthy” sources.
According to defense officials, the U.S. military has assessed 18 allegations of civilian casualties in Somalia since 2017, allegations that were received from its own internal examination of strikes or from outside allegations.
Post-strike analysis “using intelligence methods not available to non military organizations” found that none of those airstrikes resulted in any civilian casualty or injury, a defense official said.
The official added that AFRICOM did not even conduct a strike at the time and place of one of the five allegations presented in the report.
“I’m confident that our procedures would permit us to do thorough evaluations of any allegations and come up with an answer that is accurate and can be transparently conveyed,” Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, AFRICOM’s Director of Operations, said Tuesday.
U.S. defense officials said pro-al-Shabab media outlets “regularly use the opportunity to assert civilian casualties in the aftermath” of strikes, often pushing staged photographs and stock photographs as evidence.
In addition to the U.S. military, Kenyans and Ethiopians have also struck militant targets in Somalia in support of the international effort to defeat the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab fighters.
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