Civilians killed in Somali air strikes


US air strikes in Somalia killed two civilians and injured three, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a statement raising questions over US investigations.

US Africa Command was assessing allegations and goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties it said.

US forces are fighting a decade-long struggle against the al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab. The insurgency wants to overthrow Somalia’s internationally backed government and rule using its own strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Africa Command says air strikes are a key weapon against al Shabaab. Amnesty said it mistakenly targets civilians.

A US air strike in Jilib on February 2 hit a family eating, Amnesty said, killing 18-year old Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar, injuring her younger sisters – aged seven and 12 – and her 70-year-old grandmother. Amnesty cited an interview with the girls’ father, who was present but not hurt in the strike.

“He was devastated, he didn’t know why his family was targeted,” Amnesty researcher Abdullahi Hassan told Reuters. “He said, ‘I’m now on my farm, alone in an open place, if they want to kill me.’”

Mohamed Omar Abukar, the son of the 70-year-old woman, told Reuters his family was devastated by the strike. His youngest niece came to the capital for medical treatment.

“She is OK and walking. My mum and my niece Fatuma are too seriously injured to be brought by car to Mogadishu,” he said.

Another strike on February 24 on the village Kumbareere, north of Jilib, killed Mohamud Salad Mohamud, a 53-year-old father of eight who ran a banana farm and the local office for telecom company Hormuud, Amnesty said. Hormuud confirmed his death.

Africa Command – also known as AFRICOM – issued statements after both strikes saying itkilled militants.

“Following every air strike, US Africa Command conducts additional analysis to ensure military objectives were met and there were no civilian casualties,” AFRICOM told Reuters in response to the Amnesty allegations.

“Our in-depth post-strike analysis relies on intelligence methods not available to non-military organisations, including Amnesty International. The command’s civilian casualty allegation assessment process is precise, comprehensive and led by experts.”

Amnesty researcher Hassan said Africom should be more transparent about how it investigates allegations of civilian deaths.

“They seem to live in denial that air strikes actually kill civilians,” he said.

Last year, Amnesty issued a report alleging 14 civilian deaths in five US air strikes in 2017 and 2018. At the time, Africa Command rejected the report but later said a review found two civilians were killed in a 2018 strike.