Civilians die in Somali air strike – claim

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A US air strike targeting Somali Islamist militants killed six civilians, a lawmaker and relative of a victim said, raising questions about civilian casualties from US military operations.

Reuters could not immediately verify the allegations. US Africa Command said the strike killed five militants.

Mahad Dhore, a lawmaker from Somalia’s South West state, gave Reuters the names and clans of the civilians he said were killed.

“A drone killed six people in a minibus, including a 13-year-old Abdifatah Farhan Mohamud. They were civilians and were buried near  where they were bombed by the drone because they could not be carried as they were burnt into pieces.”

US Africa Command said in a statement the strike near Janaale killed “five terrorists” adding “we currently assess this air strike injured no civilians, we are aware of social media reports alleging civilian casualties. US Africa Command will review information it has about the incident.”

Africa Command investigates reports of civilian deaths, but to date verified two civilian deaths in 2018 despite scores of strikes. There have been 26 strikes this year and there were 63 last year.

It’s unclear how strikes are investigated or the dead identified as al Shabaab militants. Somalia’s civil war means large swathes of the country are off limits to government forces and their allies.

The air strikes are largely aimed at the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgency, fighting to oust the internationally-backed government and rule using the insurgency’s own strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Mohamed Aden Bare, who told Reuters he was the brother of the minibus driver, said his brother was a civilian and the others aboard the bus were farmers and local residents.

“The drone hit the front of the minibus my brother was driving. We found no trace of him save a small piece of flesh on a destroyed seat,” he told Reuters.

Last month a US air strike in a town held by Somali Islamist insurgents killed a telecommunications worker, the man’s employer said. Africa Command said he was a member of al Shabaab.

International rights group Amnesty International released a report a year ago alleging US strikes were killing civilians.

The report said 14 civilian were killed in five air strikes between 2017 and 2018. Africa Command initially denied the allegation but later concluded two civilians died in a 2018 strike.