US acknowledges Somalian civilian kills

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The US said it killed two civilians and injured three during an air strike in Somalia last year – a rare acknowledgement of civilian casualties from US Africa Command in the Horn of Africa country.

The deaths were mentioned in a debut quarterly assessment report by AFRICOM on allegations of civilian casualties raised in connection with operations against Islamist militants in Somalia, Libya and other African countries.

“Regrettably two civilians were killed and three others injured in a February 2019 air strike. “We are deeply sorry this occurred,” AFRICOM commander, US Army General Stephen Townsend, said in the report.

The air strike was in the vicinity of Kunyo Barrow in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. The report said the intended target – two members of Somali Islamist group al Shabaab – were killed.

The civilian deaths, it said, occurred were a result of US or al Shabaab munitions exploding during the air strike.

It was the second known incident where AFRICOM acknowledged killing civilians in Somalia. Rights activists accuse it of shrouding operations in secrecy.

The first was an air strike in April 2018 in El Buur in Galgadud region in with AFRICOM reporting it unintentionally killed two civilians.

The US has conducts air strikes in Somalia to help defeat al Shabaab, which seeks to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government and set up own rule based on a own strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

For almost two decades al Shabaab has waged a campaign of bombings and shooting attacks on military and civilian targets including hotels and traffic junctions in Somalia and neighbouring countries.

Regional peacekeeping force AMISOM mandated by the African Union,  helps defend the Somali government.

AFRICOM’s move to publish quarterly assessment reports on civilian casualty allegations is a welcome step towards transparency, said Seif Magango, Deputy Regional Director for Eastern Africa at rights group Amnesty International.

He added the US must follow up with “accountability and reparation for victims and their families”.