During a commander-directed review of airstrikes conducted in Somalia since 2017, U.S. Africa Command learned an April 1, 2018 airstrike killed two civilians. The commander, U.S. Africa Command directed the review due to a recent increase in airstrikes and continued interest by Amnesty International and Congress on civilian casualties.
“Credibility, transparency, and accountability are fundamental to military operations,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command. “It is critically important that people understand we adhere to exacting standards and when we fall short, we acknowledge shortcomings and take appropriate action.”
The April 2018 airstrike was designed to degrade the al-Shabaab terrorist group near El Burr, Somalia. In the airstrike four al-Shabaab militants also were killed. The airstrike was not one of the allegations presented by Amnesty International in its March 2019 report.
On March 30, 2019, the command was notified about the results of a post-strike internal assessment conducted in April 2018 that found credible evidence of the two civilian casualties. Unfortunately, the finding was not properly reported to U.S. Africa Command headquarters.
Because of the reporting error, U.S. Africa Command was not informed of the assessment’s conclusion-and subsequently the information was not reported to external authorities, such as the host nation and Congress.
Consequently, on April 2, 2018, U.S. Africa Command stated in a press release based on an initial post-strike intelligence review the strike killed five al-Shabaab terrorists, and that the command assessed “no civilians were killed in this airstrike.” Unaware of the subsequent assessment and findings, senior leaders later stated during congressional testimony and media engagements that U.S. forces caused zero civilian casualties in Africa.
U.S. Africa Command is committed to transparency in its reporting of civilian casualties. While believed to be an isolated occurrence, the reporting error is being addressed.
The Federal Government of Somalia was notified of this newly learned information, and U.S. Africa Command remains in close coordination with our partners.
U.S. Africa Command takes prudent measures to minimize civilian casualties and fully complies with the Law of Armed Conflict. The Command has processes in place to ensure the safety and protection of the local population remains a top priority.
“Airstrike assessments are a critical and continuous component of operations,” said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa Command director of operations. “Trust and credibility are central to our operations. If an innocent loss of life occurs, we are committed to being transparent and learning from this regrettable incident to prevent future occurrences.”
The command has executed 28 airstrikes in Somalia in 2019, compared to 47 in 2018 and 35 in 2017.