US denies Amnesty International claims of civilian deaths in Somalia strikes
In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command conducts airstrikes to defend the people of Somalia against terrorism, and to assist the Federal Government of Somalia as it works to alleviate security challenges. Airstrikes are one component of our combined efforts to create a more secure region through assistance to Somali security forces to effectively target al-Shabaab to deny them the ability to build capacity and attack the people of Somalia.
Amnesty International released a report today alleging that eight AFRICOM airstrikes in 2017 and 2018 resulted in civilian casualties. We appreciate Amnesty International’s efforts to allow us to contribute to the report prior to its publication, although we believe the report does not accurately reflect AFRICOM’s record in mitigating civilian casualties. In fact, AFRICOM goes to extraordinary lengths to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, exercising restraint as a matter of policy.
We take all allegations of civilian casualties seriously regardless of their origin. During research for its report, Amnesty International submitted 13 allegations in October 2018 and February 2019. 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 organizations.
In its report, Amnesty International outlines its methodology for investigating civilian casualties, stating security concerns and access restrictions prevented Amnesty International from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.
Since June 2017, AFRICOM conducted 110 airstrikes in Somalia, eliminating more than 800 terrorists. AFRICOM airstrikes are primarily conducted in secluded, low-populated areas. AFRICOM complies with the law of armed conflict and takes all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties and other collateral damage. We have processes in place to ensure the safety and protection of the local population remains a top priority. These procedures, combined with precision strike capabilities, safeguard civilians and infrastructure.
It is in the interest of the terrorist group al-Shabaab to untruthfully claim civilian casualties. It is also in the interest of al-Shabaab to coerce community members to make untrue claims. Al-Shabaab and ISIS-Somalia have a history of placing their forces and facilities in and around civilian locations to conceal and shield their activities. Therefore, AFRICOM rigorously assess potential targets to ensure only legitimate al-Shabaab and IS militants are targeted.
Following an airstrike, AFRICOM conducts additional analysis to ensure the military objectives were met and that there were no civilian casualties. AFRICOM considers information from all available sources — including other agencies, partner governments, and nongovernmental organizations — that is relevant to the event that led to the allegation and to the reliability of the source of the allegation.
Continuing pressure on the network in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia and partner forces has resulted in real, incremental change to the security of the Somali people. For instance, in the last two years Somali forces have liberated territory near Kismayo up through the Lower Juba River region, allowing more than 1,000 displaced families to return, bringing economic growth and a more stable way of life.
U.S. Africa Command will continue to work with its partners to transfer the responsibility for long-term security in Somalia from AMISOM to the Federal Government of Somalia and its Member States. U.S. Africa Command will use all effective and appropriate methods to protect the Somali people, including partnered military counter-terror operations with the Federal Government of Somalia, AMISOM and Somali National Security Forces.