On Wednesday, April 1, Amnesty International released a statement revealing new evidence of Somali civilian deaths caused by U.S. airstrikes in February, The Independent reported. Two were killed, including a teenager and a 53-year-old farmer, and three were injured, according to the organization’s statement, which noted that the U.S. Africa Command announced an investigation into the claim. AFRICOM also asserted that all civilian deaths are avoided when possible.
Based on the new evidence, Amnesty has called into question investigations led by the U.S. or AFRICOM.
“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,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s East and Southern Africa Director.
Civilian casualties mount from the U.S. military’s secret air war in Somalia. Still no justice or reparation for the victims of possible violations of international humanitarian law: https://t.co/Zvgyw4DAPd
— Amnesty International USA (@amnestyusa) April 1, 2020
When the two airstrikes took place, AFRICOM issued a press release claiming an “al-Shabaab terrorist” had been killed. No proof of the alleged terrorist’s connection to the group, however, was included in the release. Amnesty led an investigation on the claims and talked with family members of the two victims, finding no evidence of any connection to al-Shabaab and seemingly proving their innocence. This new development suggests that the U.S. might have violated human rights against Somali civilians.
“Nothing can excuse flouting the laws of war. Any US or Somali government response to al-Shabaab attacks must distinguish between fighters and civilians, and take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians,” said Abdullahi Hassan, Amnesty International’s Somalia researcher.
The U.S. has kept forces at an airbase in Kenya to actively send airstrikes to combat al-Shabaab, which is an al-Qaeda-backed group. During the 10 years that American forces have been present in the country, hundreds of these attacks have been sent.
The struggle to gain a foothold in Somalia is to install a U.S.-backed government, as the unstable government that currently oversees the country is supported by several other foreign nations.
The two U.S. airstrikes made in February were deemed a retaliatory effort after the airbase in Kenya was attacked by al-Shabaab in January. The two strikes were among the 20 this year initiated by the U.S. — a figure that is more than double the number sent during the same timeframe in 2019.
Over the years, the attacks have killed 21 and injured another 11 civilians. According to Amnesty, AFRICOM did not contact the families of any of the casualties or offer restitution.