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US military admits civilian casualties in Somalia bombing

U.S. Africa Command has completed its fourth quarter civilian casualty assessment as part of the command’s commitment to improving transparency and accountability in our assessment and reporting of civilian casualty allegations. This is the third civilian casualty assessment report since U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) began releasing quarterly reports in April 2020.

During the past quarter, the command continued to refine its website to enhance the ability to receive civilian casualty allegations in multiple languages to make communication between the civilian casualty assessment team and regional and international stakeholders more efficient.

Additionally, the command regularly releases information and press releases in multiple languages to expand the dissemination of essential information.

The command continues its commitment to degrading the capability of al-Shabaab to conduct external operations planning and attacks. USAFRICOM strikes are conducted in support of the Federal Government of Somalia and support U.S. national security interests.

USAFRICOM began the quarter with four (4) open cases. During the quarter, the command received four allegations about two new possible incidents, adding two (2) new cases for a total of six (6) open cases. USAFRICOM also received six additional allegations on a previously reported incident which remains open and is currently being assessed.

During the past quarter, USAFRICOM has adjudicated three cases.  The command completed an assessment of three civilian casualty incidents, to include two that were reported as open in the 3rd quarter report.

Three incidents remain open and under review, including two from the previous report.

After a thorough assessment of the facts and circumstances, USAFRICOM substantiated one of these incidents as having resulted in two civilian injuries relating to an airstrike on Feb. 17, 2020.

“We employ a rigorous airstrike and assessment process while operating in a complex and challenging environment,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command. “We are focused on degrading Al-Shabaab, disrupting their activities and impacting their ability to plan and carry out attacks. Unfortunately in the process of doing so, we assess injuries to two civilians occurred during an airstrike on February 17.”

The Feb. 17, 2020, civilian casualty incident has been reported to the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, the U.S. Congress, and the Federal Government of Somalia.

“In my 38 years of experience, including combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, I have never seen more pain-staking efforts to strike with precision and limit any harm to civilians,” said Townsend. “Our efforts to degrade dangerous terrorist threats while also avoiding civilian causalities and remaining transparent are without parallel.”

Discrepancies between USAFRICOM civilian casualty assessments and NGO Reports

USAFRICOM assessments of civilian casualty allegations sometimes differ from other organizations, including Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) for a number of reasons.

The command’s information is based on reliable and layered intelligence sources that are not available to the public. This can contribute to perceived discrepancies between the command’s findings and those of others. Additionally, U.S. Africa Command, in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, works with Somali leadership and community leaders to assess reported cases of civilian casualties.

Ground conditions in USAFRICOM’s area of responsibility and the activities of violent extremist organizations (VEO) often limit access to areas where USAFRICOM conducts military operations or airstrikes. Nevertheless, USAFRICOM uses all reasonably available tools to assess civilian casualty reports, including intelligence, open source reporting, and inputs from the public and the NGO community.

Definition of “civilian” and “combatant”

Consistent with the Department of Defense Law of War Manual, “civilian” and “combatant” are defined as follows:

Civilian: Persons who are not combatants (members of military/security forces or members of either a declared hostile force or an organized armed group of a party to an armed conflict). Civilians may lose their protection against attacks if demonstrating hostile intent, engaging in a hostile act, or for such time as they take direct part in hostilities; but they retain or regain such protection when they cease said conduct, or if they become wounded, sick, detained, or surrender, and thereby are unable to continue said conduct. All personnel in the USAFRICOM area of responsibility are protected civilians, unless they are positively identified as legitimate military targets.

Combatant: Persons with direct participation in an armed conflict, or persons whose hostile actions have purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the U.S. Individuals who are formally or functionally part of a non-State armed group that is engaged in hostilities may be made the object of attack because they likewise share in their group’s hostile intent.

U.S. Africa Command Civilian Casualty Assessment Quarterly Report

Summary of Results

This report reflects results of civilian casualty assessments previously reported as open that are now closed or remain under assessment and reports of possible civilian casualties the command received during the reporting period.

Completed Assessments

Note: Where allegations are determined to be unsubstantiated, it means insufficient information exists to validate or substantiate the reports of civilian casualties. When new information is received, a report of civilian casualties can be reassessed. However, until that occurs, the assessment is considered complete.

  1. Feb. 18, 2020, (Substantiated) USAFRICOM received three reports from an online media source and social media account claiming two (2) civilians were injured as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia, on Feb. 17, 2020. After a thorough inquiry into the facts and circumstances following the Feb. 17, 2020 airstrike, USAFRICOM assessed the airstrike resulted in the injury of two (2) civilians.
Number of reports received on allegation: 3 reports
Allegation Source(s) An online media source & social media account
Number claimed injured: 2
Number claimed killed: 0

 

  1. May 18, 2020 (Unsubstantiated) USAFRICOM received five (5) reports from an online media source and social media accounts claiming either four (4) or up to six (6) civilians were injured as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, Somalia, on May 17, 2020. After review, the reports were assessed as unsubstantiated. Contrary to the reports stating the airstrike targeted a mother and her children in their home, the airstrike conducted on May 17, 2020 targeted two al-Shabaab members in a known al-Shabaab compound utilized by the group to plan attacks in Mogadishu. No civilians were observed in the area or interacting with the al-Shabaab compound. U.S. intelligence confirmed that the only casualties of the strike were al-Shabaab members, and it is assessed with a high degree of confidence that no civilian casualties occurred as a result of U.S. military action. Additionally, the initial source of the reports is known to be sympathetic to al-Shabaab. Further, forensic analysis indicates that at least some of the photographs had been deliberately manipulated.
# of reports received on allegation: 5 reports
Allegation source(s) An online media source & social media account
# Claimed injured: 4 to 6
# Claimed killed: 0

 

  1. July 29, 2020 (Unsubstantiated) USAFRICOM received three (3) reports from online media sources and a social media account claiming up to three (3) civilians were killed as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Jilib, Somalia, on July 29, 2020. After review, the reports were assessed as unsubstantiated. Contrary to the reports stating the airstrike targeted a residence killing three children, the airstrike was executed on July 29, 2020 against two al-Shabaab members on a known al-Shabaab compound used as a senior al-Shabaab leadership meeting place. U.S. intelligence confirmed that the compound was only accessible to al-Shabaab members, and the casualties of the strike were al-Shabaab members. It is assessed with a high degree of confidence that no civilian casualties occurred as a result of U.S. military action. One source also used one photo that was previously published in 2015.
# of reports received on allegation: 3 reports
Allegation source(s) An online media source & social media account
# Claimed injured: 0
# Claimed killed: 3

 

Open incidents

  1. Feb. 28, 2020, USAFRICOM received three (3) reports from an online media source and social media accounts claiming two (2) civilians were injured as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, Somalia, on Feb. 28, 2020. USAFRICOM’s assessment is ongoing.
# of reports received on allegation: 3 reports
Allegation source(s) An online media source & social media account
# Claimed injured: 2
# Claimed killed: 0

 

  1. Between March 10, 2020, and April 1, 2020, USAFRICOM received multiple reports from sources variously claiming four (4) to ten (10) civilians were killed as a result of a U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of Janaale, Somalia, on March 10, 2020. On May 8, 2020, USAFRICOM closed this report as unsubstantiated. USAFRICOM received a new report of this incident from a NGO on May 15, 2020, claiming the airstrike killed six (6) civilians. USAFRICOM received a duplicate report of this incident from an online media source on June 17, 2020, claiming the airstrike killed six (6) civilians. USAFRICOM received six (6) duplicate reports of this incident via the USAFRICOM CIVCAS website on July 28 and 30 2020, claiming the airstrike killed six (6) civilians. USAFRICOM has reopened this case and our assessment is ongoing.
# of reports received on allegation: 19 reports
Allegation source(s) Online media sources, NGO, and AFRICOM website
# Claimed injured: 0
# Claimed killed: Between 2 and 10

 

  1. On Sept. 21, 2020 USAFRICOM received one (1) report from an online media source claiming eight (8) civilians were killed as a result of a joint Somali/U.S. military operation in the vicinity of Tortorrow, Somalia on Sept. 21, 2020. USAFRICOM’s assessment is ongoing.
# of reports received on allegation: 1 report
Allegation source(s) An online media source
# Claimed injured: 0
# Claimed killed: 8

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