U.S. admits first civilian casualties in Somalia airstrikes

Just weeks after insisting that American airstrikes in Somalia had killed no civilians, U.S. Africa Command said on Friday that new information reveals that a woman and a child died last April when a U.S. strike targeted al-Shabab group, the first time it has admitted non-combatant deaths since launching a wave of missiles targeting jihadist fighters.

The toll of two civilians deaths, from an April 2018 strike, is still far lower than the number investigators from Amnesty International believe have been killed.

The rights group last month reported 14 civilians had been killed from only five airstrikes they had examined, out of a total 110 missile blasts.

But the admission of deaths by U.S. force marks a notable shift in a previous blanket denial of any civilian killings.

U.S. military said in a statement that they had now found two civilians had been killed in an airstrike last year, in Somalia’s central El Burr region.

The civilian deaths had not been recorded due to a to a “reporting error”, the statement said, but were revealed after a military review was ordered “due to a recent increase in airstrikes and continued interest by Amnesty International and Congress on civilian casualties.”

U.S. strikes in Somalia surged in April 2017, after President Donald Trump declared southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities”, Amnesty said.

The rate of airstrikes has also risen sharply. The 110 attacks the U.S. said it has carried out since April 2017 includes 28 airstrikes in 2019 alone, compared to 47 in all of 2018, and 35 in 2017.

In its report last month, Amnesty International said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five airstrikes, which were detailed in the report. The report concluded there was “credible evidence” that the U.S. was responsible for four of the airstrikes and that it’s plausible the U.S. conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight were injured.

Amnesty warned that some attacks “may amount to war crimes.”

© 2019 AFP

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